In Uruguay, programme helps parents keep children healthy

children with a ruler

Cecilia Correa smiles as she watches her daughter sleep in her arms. At times, she sings her the same songs that she herself heard as a child. Today, she is filled with pride that she is better prepared to take care of her daughter and to ensure that she grows into a healthy young woman. Such an outcome, however, was only a remote possibility a few months previously.

Highlights

  • Between 2009 and 2010, Canelones Grows with You worked with 1,376 families in the department that included pregnant women or children.
  • The programme reached 1,447 children and 313 pregnant women, with each mother receiving an average of five visits during pregnancy from the programme specialists and another five visits after giving birth.
  • Within a year, low height for age decreased from 21 percent to 9 percent among participating children, while low birth weight fell from 10.5 percent to 8.6 percent. Prematurity among new-borns decreased from 9 percent to 7 percent.
  • In addition, between 2009 and 2010 the number of medical check-ups for children increased from 50 percent to 82 percent.

Correa, 22, is one of 35,000 Uruguayans bringing up a child while living in extreme poverty, according to a 2010 National Statistical Institute report. Correa lives in Canelones, the second most populous department of Uruguay.

In 2006 and 2007, a UNDP study of Canelones revealed that children in its poorest areas suffered from severe malnutrition and lower size and weight than the national average. Furthermore, physical and cognitive development among children aged 0 to 4 years was 11 percent less than the rest of the country.

As a result of these findings, UNDP, UNICEF, the Canelones government and various government agencies and civil society organizations joined to create “Canelones Grows with You,” a comprehensive programme on caring for young children designed to help those most in need.

Canelones Grows with You worked with the department’s most vulnerable families, giving special attention to pregnant women and children from birth to three years of age. Teams of health and social specialists toured the hardest-hit areas to talk to parents about the program.

Participating families received food for pregnant women and their babies, along with a course on healthy eating patterns for babies and mothers. Parents learned how to enrich their babies’ food with a special supplement powder fortified with iron; in addition, regular check-ups during pregnancy and paediatric visits for babies after birth were encouraged.

For Silvana Corujo, a programme health specialist, one of the most valuable aspects of this experience was its rebuilding of community and civic ties by fully opening up resources to the affected populations. In the past, many poorer families did not use available clinics, schools and canteens in their communities, either because of a lack of information or because they believed they had no right to access them. Today that has changed.

The programme decreased the rates of malnutrition, low height, low birth weight, and prematurity. Additionally, the number of medical check-ups for children increased from 50 to 82 percent. Thanks to the remarkable improvement in children’s health, Canelones Grows with You has grown and developed into official Government policy for the entire country, called Uruguay Grows with You.

By Esteban Zunin

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