Better training for health professionals, modern equipment and new facilities are helping to save the lives of new mothers and their babies.

Fergana, Uzbekistan – The odds were stacked so high against her premature newborn that Matluba Mamasolieva feared she would lose her.

The 24-year-old mother of two recalls with tears in her eyes how hard the doctors and nurses at Fergana Provincial Perinatal Center worked to save her baby, weighing barely a kilogram and suffering multiple life-threatening health problems.

“I lost all hope that my baby girl would survive,” she says.

Sitting next to her sleeping infant’s crib 4 days after delivery, she is thankful for the professional staff and the new facilities at the center, 350 kilometers from Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent. Mamasolieva is well aware that before the Woman and Child Health Development Project provided this facility and 226 others nationwide with the latest medical equipment and staff training, her story might not have had such a happy ending.

Integrating women and child health into primary care

Since 2004, mortality rates for mothers like Mamasolieva have fallen by more than 37%, and for their infants by more than 33%, mostly due to improved neonatal care services.

The main goal of the project was to integrate women and child health into the primary health care system. To avoid duplication of effort, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) worked closely with the World Bank to complement ongoing health projects in Uzbekistan, and tapped the expertise and activities of the United Nations and bilateral agencies involved in maternal, newborn, and child health.

The project aimed to reduce infectious diseases, increase contraceptive use among women, and reduce iron deficiency anemia among pregnant women. With the government reconstructing maternal care facilities and the World Bank building and upgrading primary care centers, the ADB-supported project focused on equipping woman and child health facilities and 227 maternity units around the country.

Expanding health training and education

Critical for success was training health care professionals at all levels in the use of new equipment and the latest methods in maternal and child health care.

Working with the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Population Fund, ADB and the government prepared clinical guidelines, upgraded the curriculum for nurses and general practitioners to international standards, and developed a nursing degree program.

General practitioners and specialists attended sessions at 18 training centers, where courses were also held for 20,000 primary health care nurses.

Restructuring and updating blood services

Albert Mustaev, chief medical doctor at the Fergana Regional Blood Center, says the government began restructuring blood services in 2008. The project introduced a national blood safety program and supported restructuring of the blood transfusion supply system, establishing six regional blood transfusion centers with modern equipment and facilities.

In collaboration with the World Health Organization and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the project trained 1,870 national, provincial, and district specialists in blood safety. In 2000, just 60% of blood samples were screened for infectious diseases before transfusion. Following the project, 100% of samples are now screened before use.

As Abdulhakim Abdullaev donates blood at the Fergana Regional Blood Center, the 57-year-old says he appreciates the center’s modern equipment and how well the facilities are maintained and sanitized. “It is a blessing for me that I can save someone’s life by donating blood,” he says.

A new chance at life for premature babies

“To see the happiness of a mother whose baby survives after she had lost all hope is priceless.”

Umida Kosimova

The project not only improved maternal health centers, but also upgraded rural primary health care clinics, known as rural doctoral points. At the Oqtepa rural doctoral point in Fergana province, 29-year-old Feruza Tuhlieva, pregnant with her third child, is consulting a doctor. She used to have to go to the district hospital to see a doctor but now staff in rural doctoral points are equipped and trained to monitor the health of pregnant women and mothers with newborns.

Tuhlieva receives treatment and supplements, such as iron and vitamins, free of charge and nurses from the primary care clinic visit her home regularly to conduct essential checkups. Nine trained nurses at the clinic each visit up to 10 families a day. Staffed with three doctors, the rural clinic serves five communities of 10,000 people.

Aleksandra Mihneva, who works at an oil refinery, is another mother who is deeply grateful for the modern facilities at the Fergana Provincial Perinatal Center and the medical staff who saved her premature baby. “My family waited 2 years for this baby boy. It is a great feeling to be a mother to a child,” she says.

The center’s neonatologist, Umida Kosimova,  says the biggest achievement is providing medical treatment necessary to give premature babies a chance at life. “To see the happiness of a mother whose baby survives after she had lost all hope is priceless,” she says.

Learn more about ADB’s work in Uzbekistan.

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.