On November 2, 2017, the Munk School of Global Affairs, in conjunction with the Consulate General of Japan and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, hosted a lecture about the “Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Handbook” as part of the JAPAN NOW lecture series. The newly established Centre for the Study of Global Japan was the main sponsor of this lecture. The speaker was Dr. Nakamura Yasuhide, a professor at the School of Nursing and Rehabilitation at the Konan Women’s University, and a professor emeritus of Osaka University. The lecture was chaired by Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services and the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, and an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
The Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Handbook is a booklet that contains information on safe pregnancy, delivery and child health, and also serves as a health record. Nakamura outlined the beginnings of the handbook in Japan in 1948 as a health record. He noted that once the MCH Handbook was introduced, infant mortality rates and neonatal mortality rates steadily decreased in Japan. Soon, MCH Handbooks began to spread across the globe. Nakamura demonstrated the handbook’s popularity by discussing the 10th International Conference on MCH Handbook which welcomed approximately 400 participants from 38 countries. He also argued about the advantages of the handbook including the strengthening of the continuum of care for maternal, neonatal and child health, and the improvement of parents’ knowledge and behaviours. Still, the MCH Handbook does come with some challenges such as the high costs of printing and the obstacle of reaching mothers who are non-literate. Despite such disadvantages, Nakamura maintained that the handbook is a flexible tool that can be adapted to each country’s needs and culture, and thus, “leaves no one behind.”
Furthermore, Bhuiyan went on to discuss his own experiences in introducing the MCH Handbook in Bangladesh. Prior to its introduction, maternal mortality ratio in Bangladesh was 170 per 1,000 live births. Through pilot intervention in Bangladesh, it was clear that the MCH Handbook could increase family knowledge on maternal and child healthcare, encourage families to keep track of health records, and prevent child illnesses. Bhuiyan also provided evidence showing that mothers who received the MCH Handbook demonstrated greater changes in healthcare knowledge (e.g. danger signs and vaccination) and practices (e.g. family planning). Bhuiyan closed by emphasizing the importance of sharing best practices, the need for local development and engagement when introducing the handbook, and the necessity to collaborate in order to achieve sustainability and expansion.
In the Q&A session, guests were passionate in discussing the future of the MCH Handbook and its potential in reaching more countries such as Syria. They were also interested in exploring how the handbook was introduced to communities. For instance, how Nakamura and Bhuyian went about engaging with other leaders to commit to these initiatives. In contrast, to advanced technology, the MCH Handbook is certainly a more accessible and flexible tool that is flourishing around the world.
Keshini Mahesan is a fourth Year student majoring in International Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto.