UNFPA assists Vietnam in maternal health care in disadvantaged ethnic minority areas

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Vietnam Naomi Kitahara in an interview with the Vietnam News Agency pointed out two big challenges to maternal health care in ethnic minority areas.

In Sin Ho district, Lai Chau province, Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative in Vietnam and the team talked with the mothers who recently gave birth at the Sin Ho Town General Hospital and talked about their experience with antenatal care visits and whether it was difficult to get to the hospital. Source: UNFPA Vietnam

According to her, UNFPA has been working closely with relevant ministries and sectors to identify the most effective strategies to assist Vietnam in creating a safe and happy environment for mothers and children, including those in ethnic minority and disadvantaged areas.

From May 4 to 7, a joint mission between UNFPA and the Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Planning and Investment visited Lai Chau province, which is one of the most remote locations where ethnic minorities reside.

The objective of the mission was to review the effectiveness of the current Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) interventions, leaving no one behind, and understand unique challenges in different socio-cultural settings. In the province, still a large proportion of deliveries happen at home, and due to distance, it is difficult for pregnant women to ensure antenatal care visits and identify any pregnancy related danger signs. Midwifes in communities therefore play a key role, saving the lives of women and babies.

Pointing out two big challenges to maternal health care in ethnic minority areas of Vietnam, Kitahara noted that ethnic minority people mostly reside in remote areas, which hampers their access to reproductive and sexual health services, while their ethnic groups’ special cultural and social conditions also make it difficult to provide guidance on and apply reproductive and sexual health care measures.

She underlined the need to increase communications and guidance in ethnic minority languages, adding that medical workers and midwives should also speak local languages to give explanation.

During the joint mission between UNFPA, Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Planning and Investment to Lai Chau province from 4 to 7 May 2021, the team visited several households of H'Mong people.

The UNFPA always exerts efforts to ensure that there won’t be more maternal deaths, all demand for family planning is met, and gender-based violence and harmful practices are prevented.

It has been working closely with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, and other ministries and sectors to identify the most effective strategies to assist Vietnam, with a focus on vulnerable groups like ethnic minority people, migrants, the youth, and the disabled, the UNFPA Representative said.

In efforts to support ethnic minority people, some of the main strategies suggested by the UNFPA include improving health workers’ capacity so that they are capable of dealing with different obstetric problems and diseases, and capitalising on online communications platforms and tele-guidance systems to overcome difficulties caused by special cultural and social conditions, the language barrier, and geographical distance, according to Kitahara.

The joint team also visited the hospital facilities, for example the delivery room and the room with incubators which help premature babies grow.

Highlighting the importance of village-based midwives and communications to improve public awareness and behaviour, she also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing major challenges when expectant mothers tend to delay or skip pregnancy tests, posing high risks during their pregnancy.

She stressed the necessity to create a safe environment for expectant mothers so that they can feel safe when visiting healthcare establishments, and to provide protective equipment for medical workers to safely perform their duties.

By combining those strategies, the UNFPA is confident of helping reduce the maternal mortality, its representative added./.