Extend Teachers’ Maternity Leave - CSO Petitions GES

The Integrated Youth Needs and Welfare (INTYON), a crusader for maternal and infant health in the Upper East region, has strongly petitioned the Ghana Education Service (GES) to extend maternity leave for teachers from 3 months to 6 months to enable them breastfeed their babies thoroughly.

The meeting which was held at Bongo-Soe, in the Bongo District was meant to introduce a programme dubbed “Mother Baby Friendly Health Initiative (MBFHI)” to some identifiable groups in the community.

Experts have in the length of the years, championed 6-month exclusive breastfeeding, highlighting the vital gains it promises the child, presently and in the future. But female teachers in Ghana are ripped between obeying the doctor and complying with the command of the employer.

The GES allows female teachers, after delivery, only a 3-month maternity leave and, when the leave is over, strictly forbids them from bringing the babies to the classroom.

Currently, schools in Ghana do not have childcare centres where such teachers can keep their newborns to breastfeed at appropriate intervals for another 3 months while teaching. Such teachers aside being confronted with untold dilemma, also deny their babies the essential nutrients required in their first six months.

The programme, backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Ghana Health Service (GHS), is aimed at reducing diseases and deaths among pregnant women, nursing mothers and babies in Bongo. INTYON is expected to execute it in 42 communities within the district by mobilising identifiable groups and sensitising them to support Maternal and Newborn Health (MNH).

Executive Director of INTYON, Chief Issah Ibrahim, told journalists Wednesday at the close of a stakeholders’ meeting. that ,“They should allow them (the female teachers) to do it [for] six months so that we would achieve what we are looking for. They should increase their maternity leave to six months so they can do the exclusive breastfeeding before returning to school. It would be very, very good. That is what we are advocating for”.

According to Chief Issah Ibrahim, exclusively breastfed children would have “more resistance to ailments”, would be “brilliant” and would be “physically strong”.

“Learning would be easy for the child and the parents would not spend much money sending the child to hospital all the time to deny the child the time meant to be in school. These are some of the things driving some of us to plead that they extend the maternity leave for teachers to 6 months before they come back to school,” the Executive Director stressed.

The “Gatekeepers” are the “Problems”- GHS

Interacting with newsmen, the Bongo-Soe Sub-District Head of Health Services, Isaac Adabre, who chaired the stakeholders’ meeting, identified some relatives who are entrusted with temporary custody of babies as the main ‘threats’ to the exclusive breastfeeding concept in the area.

“Especially our mothers-in-law. I call them the gatekeepers. They are actually the problem. They have a different view about exclusive breastfeeding and child health. And because some of the women are practising exclusive breastfeeding [owing to] their work schedules, sometimes they leave [their babies] with the grandmothers. And as for the grandmothers, they definitely would give water [to the babies to drink] because of what they have experienced. One of the challenges is the gatekeepers- the mother-in-laws, the fathers-in-law who are in the house,” Mr. Adabre stated.

He added: “And there are certain conditions which the community sees as not hospital-friendly. When they begin to see those conditions [in the babies], they begin to stop breastfeeding, associating those conditions with breastfeeding. Also, the community has not been made aware that the production of breast milk is not about the quantity of food you eat but about the mind and having good nutrition. The lack of knowledge about breast milk production is one of the things hindering the practice of exclusive breastfeeding in this community.”

Poor Cable Network poses Danger to Pregnancies

The meeting, which took place at the Bongo-Soe Health Centre, saw the staff of the facility express fears about the danger a chronic poor telecommunication network in the area poses to pregnant women.

“We write our [telephone] numbers inside their ANC (Antenatal Care) cards and we tell the mothers in case you have any problem at home, you can just call [us] with that number. They would be trying and they won’t get us because of the network. Sometimes, that is what leads to some of them coming late (for delivery). When they call early and we get them early, we can go there and bring them to the facility. But now that the network is not there, we [are helpless]."

“We would appeal to them (telecommunication companies) to improve their network for especially we those in the rural areas. Sometimes, it’s difficult for us to reach each other and that can lead to so many complications for our women. Besides, the poor network is making electronic tracking of records difficult. Because there is no network, we are still using hard copies to keep records of our deliveries. The disease control officer would always have to take the book home to do the e-tracking for our monthly reports,” said the midwife in charge of the health centre, Cecilia Azitariga Ayeyuure.

The facility has since the beginning of 2017 logged 210 deliveries, according to the midwife, with August recording 39 of the figure as of the last Wednesday of the month.