In order to improve the health of new mothers and their babies, one of Lendwithcare’s partners in Ecuador, Fundacion de Apoyo Comunitario y Social del Ecuador (Foundation for Community and Social Assistance in Ecuador, known by its Spanish Acronym FACES) is about to launch a new project called ‘Mi primera cuna’ or ‘My first bed’. It provides expectant mothers with a robust, reinforced cardboard box lined with a new mattress that acts as a baby’s cot, ensuring a safe and hygienic place for infants to sleep. The box is delivered containing clothes for the new-born baby, blankets, a baby towel, liquid soap, a breast milk pump and both disposable and re-usable nappies, among other products. FACES estimates the total value of the items at over US$150. Also included is a booklet that parents can use to chart the health and development of their child. FACES deliberately excluded bottles in order to encourage breastfeeding.
María Elena Bravo, Director of Social Responsibility at FACES, says the idea came from Finland, where mothers first received a ‘baby box’ in 1938. In the beginning, the Finland government targeted disadvantaged mothers, but since 1949 the support has been extended to all expectant mothers. It is essentially a starter pack containing baby clothes, a mattress, blankets, towels and nappies and, of course, the box that can be used as a bed. Partly due to the introduction of the baby box, but also because of improved nutrition and hygiene, increased wealth and maternity and child health clinic services, the infant mortality rate decreased drastically in Finland during the decades that followed and is currently just 1.7 deaths per 1000 live births – one of the lowest in Europe. The Finnish ‘maternity package’ has now been adopted in other countries, particularly among low-income mothers, but as far as Maria Elena Bravo is aware, it is the first such initiative in Ecuador.
Luis Palacios, the Founder and Executive Director of FACES, estimates that almost two-thirds of the organisation’s female clients are in the reproductive age range. He says the box will be made available free of charge to all of FACES’s clients, their partners and any of their teenage daughters who become pregnant – it is estimated that 20% of women in Ecuador actually experience their first pregnancy as teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 and 65% of births originate outside of marriage, mostly to young women below the age of 19. The project will be part-funded from the organisation’s profits during the first three years. Interestingly, several of the items included in the box, such as the mattress and blankets, are produced by some of the entrepreneurs who FACES supports with loans. María Elena Bravo hopes that parents will keep the box to store their child’s belongings, or even as a souvenir.
In order to be eligible for the baby box, FACES requires all expectant mothers to visit an ante-natal clinic for a check-up at least once during the first four months of pregnancy, and preferably every month. Both parents are also encouraged to attend parenting information classes provided by FACES which, among other topics, stress the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of the father’s involvement in caring for the baby.
While the infant mortality rate for children under the age of one in Ecuador has declined in recent years, according to data from UNICEF, it still remains relatively high at 20 deaths per 1,000 live births and disproportionately affects poorer and more vulnerable families. María Elena Bravo ascribes this partly to large families living in cramped conditions with mothers often forced share a single bed with their new-born babies. Furthermore, the situation is sometimes exacerbated by alcohol abuse and domestic violence in the household and, increasingly, in the opinion of FACES, by drug abuse among teenage mothers. María Elena Bravo hopes the Mi primera cuna initiative will not only improve the overall health of mothers and their babies, but also reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, thanks to babies sleeping in separate beds to their parents.
Since it was established in 1991, FACES has always considered itself primarily as a social development organisation – it commits 15% of its profits each year to social development projects. Although its core activity is the provision of loans to establish and develop small businesses, mostly managed by low-income women, it campaigns and promotes awareness on a range of issues, such as, for example, domestic violence and better nutrition. In the past, it established a pharmacy so that medicines could be made available to borrowers and non-borrowers at low prices. Since the provision of basic health services in many peri-urban and rural areas is poor, FACES now works alongside the medical company InMedical to provide basic healthcare for the families of all of its clients for US$3 per month.
Author: Laila Khan