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Published on 09 October 2012
By Larissa Tuohy, Communications Manager, ChildFund Australia
As the communications manager at ChildFund Australia, I have the wonderful privilege of immersing myself in the many incredible and life-changing stories that come from the countries in which we work.
At times too, I must read heart-rending accounts of the difficulties so many children face in their everyday lives in so many developing countries around the world. These stories never get easier to digest or comprehend, and make me feel so lucky that an accident of birth has given both myself and my own children the joy of an Australian childhood.
One of our newest programs in Africa, though, has really made its mark on my consciousness. Our fantastic staff in Zambia are now in the process of implementing the Start Strong, Stay Strong initiative. The objectives are simple – to give mothers in rural communities a place where they can take the newest members of their family for regular check-ups.
As a mother of a three- and five-year-old, I have spent many hours over the past few years with my local community health professionals. In those first weeks after the birth of my daughter, a maternal health nurse visited my home, not only to check on the health of my baby girl, but also to give me, a brand-new and very nervous mummy, some much-needed guidance and advice. This was repeated with the birth of my son and, while I had greater confidence in my skills (and a much better sense of how those first hazy, sleep-deprived weeks were likely to pan out!), it was still reassuring to have a sounding board available.
Over the years, my children have had routine check-ups at six weeks of age, six months, one year and each year after that. My community health service was also available for any ad hoc concerns I had. My children are both healthy and strong, but during that time the nurses identified my daughter’s failure to put on weight during her first few weeks of life (and provided advice on complementary feeding strategies); my son’s slow progress in reaching certain development milestones was also monitored. In each instance, I was referred to specialists for further testing, and I felt confident that my children had the best of care.
It turns out that my son’s late walking and talking was probably just due to having an older sister ready to fetch and interpret on his behalf, but I feel incredibly lucky that even these most minor development anomalies were picked up by a qualified professional, and that actions were taken to investigate further.
We can often be heard complaining about Australian’s public health system, but we are so fortunate that we do at least have a system in place – whatever its failings may be from time to time. My community health team provide a free service, they are located near my home so are easy to access, and they are staffed by a fantastic group of women, who have not only provided my children with a wonderful level of care, but have also helped me to become the mother I am today. And they will continue to provide this support over the years ahead.
In comparison to so many mothers and their infants in Zambia, I am extremely fortunate. One in nine Zambian mothers will lose their child before they reach the age of five years. Not from complex conditions with long scientific names, but from everyday, preventable illnesses.
Through the Start Strong, Stay Strong program, ChildFund will give Zambian families the reassurance that I have so often taken for granted – children will be monitored, life-saving immunisations will be administered, and mums will get the support they need.
Becoming a mother is exciting and frightening and wonderful and life-changing. The birth of your first child is also the day when worry becomes a constant feeling in your daily repertoire of human emotions. The least we can do for women in Zambia, and other countries around the world, is lessen those worries. Basic healthcare is the right of every mother and child, and we should support those who are most vulnerable.
To find out more or make a donation to ChildFund Australia’s Start Strong, Stay Strong program, please click here.