Self-Care: a Vital Component of Any Comprehensive Maternal and Newborn Health Strategy

September 19, 2017

Self-Care: a Vital Component of Any Comprehensive Maternal and Newborn Health Strategy

A partnership with MSH-Perú and White Ribbon Alliance is promoting self-care in Bolivia

On a bright July day in San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia, 13 indigenous women leaders gathered in the central plaza around a long table decorated with bowls of beans, rice, plantains, corn, tomatoes, greens, and other foods. As part of an all-day fair to promote the health and nutrition of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, these indigenous women leaders presented their dishes to over 150 community members and local officials, gathered in the plaza to celebrate the town’s anniversary, and offered ideas on how to cook with locally- grown ingredients provided by the national government’s food subsidy program.

Through the White Ribbon Alliance’s Self-Care Initiative, MSH-Perú is organizing workshops and other outreach activities, to motivate women in 11 indigenous Bolivian communities to actively care for themselves, especially during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, by practicing healthy behaviors, and preparing nutritious meals.

When a woman has the knowledge and feels confident to take control of her own health and nutrition, she can practice healthy behaviors and help prevent serious health problems, address minor health issues before they get worse, recognize danger signs, and seek medical care. If women and communities adopt and promote self-care and health-seeking behaviors, health systems can avoid using scarce human and financial resources unnecessarily, decreasing the workload of overextended health providers, and contributing to improved quality of care and savings in health system costs.

MSH-Perú’s self-care project builds on Family Care International’s (now the FCI Program of MSH) years of work with indigenous Bolivian communities and networks to promote culturally respectful maternity care and to increase indigenous women’s access to, and use of maternal health services. Through participatory workshops, community events, and cooking demonstrations, the self-care project encourages women to grow home gardens, wash their hands before food preparation, maintain a balanced diet, and consume iron-rich foods to prevent and treat anemia. The self-care project team collected recipes from women to create a local cookbook, and published a calendar with simple health messages relevant to their community.

The self-care project team also encourages women to take advantage of Bolivia’s Juana Azurduy food subsidy program. After learning that fewer than 30% of qualified women who were pregnant or had a baby younger than one year were receiving the nutrition and cash subsidies. To ensure more women can access this program, project staff are helping women register for these subsidies, while successfully engaging municipal Ministry of Health authorities as project champions promoting pregnant women’s participation in this program.

The self-care model provides a pathway for the realization of the right to health by sharing with each woman the knowledge and tools to manage her health, despite the social determinants—such as socioeconomic status, gender, cultural identity—that can exacerbate health problems. Through self-care, women can practice prevention and healthy habits, relieving stress on an overburdened health system so health providers can focus their attention on providing quality health care to those who need it most.