Unicef funds training of health workers for keeping tab on infant mortality

Dakshina Kannada is one of the two districts in the State which receives funds from the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to implement a programme of the Government of Karnataka aimed at studying the causes of infant mortality.

Project Officer of the Reproductive and Child Health section of the Health Department M. Rukmini told The Hindu that the department had begun implementing the Infant Death Review System with financial aid from the Unicef.

Karnataka State Consultant for Child Health Initiatives, Unicef, Sudeep Shetty said the Unicef was assisting with the programme in terms of funding for training health workers and private medical practitioners and by providing logistics — the questionnaire and fees for health experts who would do the analysis.

The programme was carried out in two districts in the State — Raichur and Dakshina Kannada — because of the two extremes they represented in terms of healthcare. While Raichur had worst health facilities, Dakshina Kannada had some of the best, he said. “With the lessons learnt from these two districts, we want to develop a model that can be replicated elsewhere,” said Mr. Shetty.

It involves the administration of the verbal autopsy, a questionnaire running to over 20 pages collecting information about the background of the household, actual cause of illness leading to death, neo-natal deaths (less than a month old infants), and post-neo-natal deaths. The information gathered would be studied by a district committee comprising persons of different areas of expertise and would be headed by the Deputy Commissioner, he said.

The Health Department organised a workshop on December 4 to impart information to private medical practitioners and institutions. “We could have just sent circulars to them but it is not as effective as a training session. Private medical practitioners do not know the value of documentation,” she said.Despite this, Ms. Rukmini said the participation level should have been higher. Several major hospitals and medical colleges sent staff of the community medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, and paediatrics departments. Although the target was 250, about 50 per cent of those present belonged to the department. However, the scenario improved and the department had to train over 3,000 health workers and members of doctors associations within the year-long project, she said.

Head of the Department of Paediatrics at Kasturba Medical College B. Shantaram Baliga said a systematic study of the subject was unavailable. “This is the right way forward. It will bring accountability even within the private sector. The media only looks at government hospitals but who is controlling the private sector?” However, he added that it was a fact-finding and not fault-finding exercise which would “give us a chance to speak for neo-natal cases,” he said.

The infant mortality rate (IMR) for the district in 2009 was 10.5 per 1,000 live births as compared to the State IMR of 43, said Ms. Rukmini.

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