ARK launches "Safe Arrivals" health programme in Zimbabwe

On 7 March at Chitungwiza Central Hospital in Zimbabwe, Health and Child Welfare Deputy Minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora joined ARK's Chief Executive, Lucy Heller, to launch a programme to save the lives of  Zimbabwe's mothers and babies.

The Safe Arrivals programme, in which ARK has invested £1.5 million, aims to radically improve maternal and newborn survival rates by training frontline health workers and installing cost-effective, life-saving equipment in hospitals.

Each year in Zimbabwe, around 3,000 mothers and 10,500 babies lose their lives in or soon after childbirth. The greatest loss of life happens in rural areas, where less than a quarter of district hospitals have the equipment and trained staff to provide comprehensive emergency obstetric care, such as caesarean section.

Accelerating the national Clinical Officer programme to ensure more mothers have access to emergency obstetric care

To address the acute shortage of trained staff, ARK is accelerating the national Clinical Officer training programme which currently trains 10 Clinical Officers a year.  With ARK's support, 80 Clinical Officers will be trained over the next two years to ensure, by 2015, all district hospitals have a health worker with the skills needed to provide comprehensive care.

The first cohort of 40 students have started start their hands-on, two-year training course at Chitungwiza Hospital, where ARK has built a dedicated training centre and student accommodation. Students will also train at Harare's central hospitals and, crucially, must complete an attachment in rural areas to gain first-hand experience of the work they will face as qualified Clinical Officers. All students are committed to working in rural district hospitals after graduation.

This initiative alone is expected to cut mortality rates by 25%.

Training and equipping more frontline health workers to save lives now

To ensure the programme saves lives now, ARK is also running an intensive, four-day course in emergency obstetric care coupled with regular follow-up sessions for 800 existing health workers in 24 districts.

Alongside and in partnership with UNICEF, ARK has introduced newborn care corners in 20 district hospitals; dedicated areas equipped with cost-effective, life-saving equipment which prevent lack of oxygen at birth and other preventable causes of death in newborns. ARK will be monitoring their impact on newborn mortality over the next 12 months to inform the Ministry's decision for the nationwide rollout of newborn corners from 2014.

Dr Vonai Teveredzi, ARK's Country Director in Zimbabwe, said: "Training more Clinical Officers is key to delivering long-term change for Zimbabwe's pregnant women and newborns. Unlike doctors, Clinical Officers are far more likely to stay working in the districts, which is exactly where we need their life-saving skills."

The Safe Arrivals programme is a collaboration between ARK and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare together with Chitungwiza Central Hospital, the Nursing Council of Zimbabwe, The Department for International Development, UNICEF and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Health and Child Welfare Deputy Minister Douglas Mombeshora, ARK Chief Executive Lucy Heller and ARK Trustee Kevin Gundle at the ceremony.