Nine out of 10 local hospitals previously certified and designated as ‘baby-friendly hospitals’ have been thrown off the list because of changing requirements of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
According to UNICEF, “The internationally defined term ‘baby-friendly’ may be used only by maternity services that have passed external assessment according to the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI).”
Locally, a sustainability plan was needed to provide conducive breastfeeding environments for new mothers, and the permanent training of more health officials was paramount for hospitals to be declared baby-friendly.
To encourage breastfeeding among new mothers, the Ministry of Health, in 2001, announced that Victoria Jubilee, Spanish Town, Linstead, Princess Margaret, Cornwall Regional, Andrews Memorial, and Doctor’s hospitals, the Bustamante Hospital for Children, the University Hospital of the West Indies, and Faith Maternity Centre were to be designated baby-friendly hospitals.
However, during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s North Street headquarters last week, it was revealed that the initiative had lost steam, the requirements and criteria had changed, and the number of hospitals went from 10 to zero.
Lone Hvass, deputy representative of UNICEF, said the programme had come to almost a standstill locally.
“The Ministry of Health is leading on the programme and we (UNICEF) simply assist. I know that efforts are now being made to certify two hospitals as Jamaica wants to pick up steam again,” said Hvass.
UNICEF’s quality education specialist Dr Rebecca Tortello later provided additional information as she disclosed that the pro-breastfeeding hospital designation faced many challenges and had to be revamped.
According to Tortello, Princess Margaret Hospital was the only one meeting the new requirements of the WHO and UNICEF at this time.
“Princess Margaret is meeting all the new requirements and has been assessed. May Pen, too, but it hasn’t yet been assessed. We enjoy a good working relationship with the Ministry of Health Nutrition Unit on this initiative in particular, and we look forward to gaining some momentum once Princess Margaret receives its plaque,” said Tortello.
She said the challenges to the maintenance of the designation and certification of the Jamaica initiative included staffing, space, and the number of patients needing assistance (especially during bumper baby season).
“I understand that between 1996 and 2001, Jamaica had 10 certified hospitals. Of those 10, two no longer offer maternity services, and so it is really eight that fell below standards (i.e., were not able to consistently maintain all the steps) and are in need of reassessment or certification.
“Four, as I mentioned, are slated for that by the end of 2015, with better monitoring systems in place to help ensure sustainability,” Tortello continued.
She said the initiative was so designed to “give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated. Practise rooming in, that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day; encourage breastfeeding on demand; and help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth, providing mothers and babies are well.
Another initiative that is now becoming a part of the requirement is the provision of space for mothers who are HIV-positive so as to provide privacy for counselling and education, which should double as a training space for all mothers.
UNICEF has assisted all local hospitals.