RAJANPUR DISTRICT, Pakistan, August 2013 – Amna Bibi, 28, feels overwhelmed every time she looks at her newborn daughter, who is sound asleep in her arms. Malaika is only 10 days old. She is the youngest of Amna’s six children and the only one born under proper medical care. All her other children were born at home.
Ms. Bibi waits patiently in a queue of women at the newly renovated Basic Health Unit (BHU) Sahanwala, Rajanpur district of Southern Punjab. She walked four kilometres from her village to reach the BHU and is keen to see the doctor as Malaika is to receive her first dose of polio drops and the BCG (tuberculosis) vaccination. It is also time for Amna’s second postnatal check-up.
“My daughter was born in this hospital,” she says. “I am here to get her vaccinated and for my own check-up. They take good care of us in this hospital. It is very clean and we also get free medicines.”
Like many other women of her village, Ms. Bibi did not know that a child could be delivered at the newly constructed BHU. When Amna was pregnant, a Community Field Organizer visited her house and advised her to visit the BHU and avail all facilities including prenatal check-ups, child birth and postnatal care.
Recalling the night Malaika was born, she says, “When I felt that it was time for my baby to come, I rushed to the hospital and got admitted. Malaika was born around midnight, and the doctor and other staff were all here. It was much better than giving birth at home. I stayed here for two days and then they dropped us home in the ambulance.”
Located in a remote council of Rajanpur district, the BHU Sahanwala was severely damaged in the 2010 floods. which affected nearly 20 million people across Pakistan. The building was flooded and the health facilities destroyed. UNICEF, in collaboration with the Punjab Health Department, decided to rehabilitate the BHU by renovating the damaged building and constructing a new block. Around US$118,000 received from the Australian National Committee for UNICEF were allocated for the project.
With a slight delay due to recurrent floods in 2012, rehabilitation of the BHU was recently completed. It is now providing health services to a population of nearly 40,000, including 6,000 children under age 5 living in the Shanwala Union Council. In addition, some 8,000 women of reproductive age are also expected to benefit from pre- and postnatal services offered at this facility.
“People of the area refer to it as the New Hospital,” says Dr. Hafeezur Rehman. “They have come to know about the new services being offered here, and that has increased the number of outpatients. Every month, around 1400 people receive medical care, and on the average 25 deliveries take place in the BHU every month.”
Dr. Rehman, heads a team of 13 medical staff, including a school health and nutrition supervisor, a women’s health supervisor, a women’s health visitor, a midwife, two dispensers, a vaccinator and helping staff. Preventive and curative services include 24/7 emergency obstetric and neonatal care, which is usuually not available at the BHU level.
Making A Difference
In order to raise awareness about services available at BHU Sahanwala, Community Field Organisers visit different villages in the Union Council and encourage women to visit the BHU. Staff from the BHU organize a free medical camp every month in one of the villages to provide doorstep health services.
Twice a year, UNICEF in collaboration with the Punjab Health Department organizes the Mother and Child Health Week in all districts of the country. In Sahanwala, the BHU serves as the focal point for this activity and a ‘Health Mela’ (fair) is organized where people from the entire union council receive health advice and services free of charge.
As a member of an underprivileged remote rural community of Southern Punjab, Ms. Bibi could not have imagined having access to such health facilities till just a few years ago. For the people of Shanwala and surrounding villages, the BHU is making a difference in health, hygiene and maternal and child mortality.
“As part of the early recovery programme after the floods in 2010 and 2012, UNICEF had prioritized restoration of this health facility in Rajanpur district,” says Dr. Manzoor, UNICEF Pakistan Health Specialist. “Restoration of BHU Sahanwala is now complete, and it is providing enhanced health services including Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care to the entire population of the Union Council thus contributing significantly in reduction of maternal and child mortality.”