Expectant mothers have been encouraged to prioritize antenatal care as a way of improving maternal and infant health.
Dr. Parfait Uwaliraye, the Director of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Health (MoH) made the call as he spoke during the launch of Maternal and Child Health (MCH) week in Rubavu district.
The week, which is running from November 14 through November 18, aims to deliver integrated packages of cost-effective preventative services to improve maternal and child health, while providing interventions for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and malnutrition as well.
According to the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) released in 2020, the number of women who die while giving birth was 203 per 100,000, while the infant mortality stood at 19 per 1000 births.
Uwaliraye said they have been celebrating the week for over 20 years as a way of addressing the heavy burden of high neonatal, infant, under five and maternal mortality by strengthening the health system for mothers, new-born, infants, and adolescents in the Rwandan community.
He also urged men to play their part in ensuring the health of expectant mothers and infants, for instance by taking care of their wives when they are pregnant, escorting them to antenatal care visits and helping in family planning.
According to MoH, activities for the week include malnutrition screening for children aged 6-59 months, provision of vitamin A supplements to children aged 6-59 months and supply of deworming tablets to children aged 1-15 years.
There will also be catch-up vaccination sessions for children aged 0-59 months who missed routine doses, and this will be done countrywide.
The week, which is running under the theme ‘No Woman Should Die While Giving Life,’ will also see family planning methods being discussed. Sessions around malaria, nutrition, handwashing, water and sanitation will also be held, according to MoH.
The 2020 DHS survey also showed that Rubavu District had 40.5 per cent of stunted children.
Commenting on that, Pacifique Ishimwe, Vice Mayor of Rubavu district, said the numbers were due to people lacking knowledge about stunting, but as the district increased awareness, they are now equipped with how they can handle the situation.
"They have to understand that a mother has to go for a check-up once she gets pregnant, so that she and the child can be followed up. She also has to eat a balanced diet," said Ishimwe.
The mayor also noted that the district is increasing awareness of proper breastfeeding, hygiene concerning meal preparations and prevention of family conflicts which she said can hinder the progress they have so far made.
Theoneste Rusine, a community health worker in Cyanzarwe sector, said the week will help him and his fellows to mobilise people they are in charge of, adding that they are set to visit them in their homes as they distribute drugs and show them how to prepare a balanced diet, among other activities.
MoH, in partnership with the National Child Development Agency and its development partners, are running the maternal and child health week.