Ausaid Annual Report
2012–13

australian agency for international development

Protecting mothers and newborns in vulnerable communities in Bangladesh

With support from the AusAID NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), Catholic aid and development agency Caritas Australia is working with local counterparts to enhance health and livelihoods in underprivileged indigenous communities in Bangladesh.

For mother of two, Paskolina Murmu, news of an impending birth in her village used to be a cause for concern as well as celebration.

Living in a remote indigenous district in northern Bangladesh, with its own dialect and cultural heritage, accessing mainstream health services was hugely challenging for Paskolina's community. Local medical knowledge was limited and there was a worrying trend of women experiencing complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Things began to change when Paskolina raised her concern with a Caritas Bangladesh community worker at a village meeting and was invited to take a lead in helping improve maternal and child health in her community.

"Caritas Bangladesh arranged for me to travel to Dhaka to undertake training as a birth assistant," says Paskolina, who learnt about pre and antenatal care, the nutritional needs of pregnant women, and how to minimise health risks through improved sanitation and hygiene practices.

Having a skilled birth attendant available to women in labour is one of the single most effective strategies for reducing complications and delivering healthy babies. For Paskolina, the training delivered by Caritas Bangladesh also equipped her to raise community awareness and support expecting mothers in her village.

"Now, when an expectant mother complains of symptoms, I know what remedies might help and when she needs to get to a health clinic. That is a huge relief."

Partnering with non-government organisations is a valuable way of extending the reach and impact of Australian aid. ANCP supports accredited Australian organisations such as Caritas Australia to deliver hundreds of development projects in some of the world's poorest communities.

Caption: Paskolina Murmu is supporting mothers and newborn babies in her local community

Credit: Hannah Cattanach, AusAID