Midwives help with antenatal care and care of babies in Slovakia

June 27, 2022

Mission 1,000 is a project based in the Spišská Nová Ves region in the Slovak Republic where eleven specialised Roma Health Mediators — the so-called midwives — help mothers from marginalized communities during their pregnancy and after childbirth. The project was initiated by the Association for Culture, Education and Communication (ACEC), to highlight the crucial first 1,000 days from conception to the age of 2 years.

Currently the Mission 1,000 project is being co-funded by a grant from the Norway Grants (€199,000), and from the State Budget of the Slovak Republic (€29,000). The aim of the project is to mobilize social capital and build capacity in home and community care for pregnant women and children from marginalized backgrounds. In order to expand their impact and advocacy, a proposal is in the works for Slovak grassroots organizations to join the First Years First Priority Campaign.

Extending antenatal and postnatal care to marginalized communities

“In Slovakia, antenatal preparation, necessary postnatal care, and activities to develop parenting skills are almost inaccessible for parents who do not have enough financial resources,” says Magdaléna Rothová , the director of ACEC. Her organization is seeking to rectify this situation with the help of midwives who are specialized health mediators.

“We are building community capacity in pregnancy care during mothers stay in the maternity ward and after their discharge. In this way, we create communication bridges and develop relationships among communities.”

The midwives operate in several villages in the Spiš Region. Their activities include working with and for girls, pregnant women and stay-at-home mothers directly in the settlements, but also in hospitals. They also cooperate with local government, community centres, other auxiliary professions, and health care providers. In Spišská Nová Ves, the midwives work at the Svet zdravia Hospital in the gynaecology and obstetrics, and the paediatric wards.

The fact that the midwives speak Romani is highly valued in the hospitals as Magdaléna says that this “creates a sense of security for these mothers and children.” This is especially important for babies in the paediatric ward who do not have someone accompanying them. She says that these babies “often see the midwives as their saviours because they speak their language.” In the maternity ward, the midwives also play a key role in supporting the mothers with breastfeeding.

Raising awareness and breaking down barriers

The hospital’s director, Renáta Šuláková, acknowledges the important impact that having the midwives present in the hospital can have in the first 1,000 days of children’s lives. Education and awareness about this period in a child’s life is vital, as the first 1,000 days from conception “lay the foundations for the immune system, metabolism, and brain development” says Šuláková.

She added that, “while these colleagues primarily help moms from poor communities, I believe their help will be in demand in the rooms of all moms in our maternity ward, as the midwives raise awareness and break down barriers between staff and patients.”

Progress over the years

Three years ago, Mission 1,000 was launched as a pilot project by ACEC — with support from the Penta Foundation — using volunteer women as midwives. Now, having secured financial support from Norwegian grants and the state budget, the first eleven midwives have been recruited.

One of the midwives is Marta Polláková from Spišská Nová Ves, who previously worked as a kindergarten teacher for 20 years. For her, being a midwife is her mission, and her main goal is to help mothers. Speaking about her job as a midwife she says that although working with people is demanding — even more so if you work in a settlement — she feels good in this job, and it fulfils her. What makes her the happiest is ”when I see that the mothers want to work with me and that the children are happy when I come,” she concluded.

Another midwife Anežka Mirgová, elaborated on the important activities that the midwives perform. These include:

  • Offering mothers help and advice about the baby’s development
  • Taking care of mothers before and after the birth
  • Teaching them how to change nappies, bath, and massage the baby
  • Ensuring that the mother’s health is at its best

Advocating for effective early childhood care in marginalized communities

Recently, the activities of the Mission 1000 project were presented at an event in Spišská Nová Ves — with almost fifty participants attracted by the topic of early childhood care and effective approaches to early childhood care in the conditions of marginalized communities in Slovakia. The event also included a presentation of the proposal to join First Years First Priority campaign.