To invite attention to the rising incidence of preventable deaths of children below five years of age, and of mothers due to causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, the ICT Cell of the National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care will organise the Mother and Child Week from April 2-7.

Other partners in the initiative include the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, the Capital Development Authority and Unicef. The week will be observed in 12 union councils, 133 villages and 14 registered slums of Islamabad, with focused awareness and service delivery on Maternal, New Born and Child Health Care reaching a population of around 1.3 million.

The National Programmes of Lady Health Workers, EPI and CDA are joining hands this year to deliver as one; as such, there will be greater chances of reaching disadvantaged mothers and children residing in the urban and rural slums.

Activities planned for the week-long observation include public awareness initiatives at the village and union council levels, supplemented by immunization and deworming for children, tetanus toxoid vaccination for pregnant mothers, refresher trainings for health workers, and strengthened public health systems to ensure that Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and other essential supplies are available and correctly used.

Each pregnant woman will also receive counselling on recognition of danger signs among mothers and newborns, the importance of at least four ANC visits, delivery by a skilled birth attendant, post-natal care, early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, child immunization and optimal birth spacing.

The week will focus on diarrhoea prevention and management with intensive awareness-raising on best care practices at the household level if a child suffers from diarrhoea. These include the use of ORS and Zinc syrup, continued breastfeeding and knowledge about danger signs of dehydration when a prompt referral to a health facility is required. Simple measures such as treating drinking water and hand washing with soap can prevent diarrhoea and other communicable diseases. Similarly, low-cost latrines can be built where people lack proper sanitation facilities.

The Mother & Child Week was piloted in 2008 with a focus on prevention and management of Diarrhoea in April and Pneumonia in October. The excellent results obtained have led to scaling up of the initiative to a nationwide level.

Each year, Pakistan witnesses preventable deaths of 432,000 children under-five and 20,000 mothers due to causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Among the under-five deaths, two-thirds are in the newborn period (first 28 days of life) and the remaining are largely due to pneumonia (13%) and diarrhoea (11%). Diarrhoea is a seasonal calamity (number of cases start rising in April and peak around July & August each year). About 70,000 children in Pakistan die due to diarrhoea every year. Most of these lives can be saved by simple knowledge about prevention and promotion of key measures at home and healthcare seeking practices.

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