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Cuba: Lowest Rate of Low Birth Weight in Latin America and Caribbean

Cuba: Lowest Rate of Low Birth Weight in Latin America and Caribbean

Havana, February 2, 2016 – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) point to Cuba as the country with the least low birth weight (LBW) in the region. According to their January report Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America, Cuba’s 5.3% low birth weight (<2500 grams, regardless of gestational age) was the lowest in the Caribbean and Latin America for 2016. Factors cited include the island’s Maternal-Child Health Program (PAMI); national nutritional guidelines for infants; and an increase in exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Cuba’s strategy for improving maternal and child health—with national guidelines and standards developed by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), together with PAMI clinical practitioners and specialists—focuses on the biopsychosocial health of each new mother, guaranteeing a minimum of 12 antenatal exams, genetic testing when indicated, and specialized attention in the national network of 136 maternity homes for at-risk pregnancies. These services, like all care and services in Cuba’s universal health system, are provided free of charge to the patient.

In 2016, 99% of Cuban newborns were delivered in hospitals or other health institutions. Additionally, 57 of the country’s maternity hospitals have been UNICEF-accredited ‘Mother-And-Baby-Friendly,’ a designation meaning that a high percentage of new mothers are successfully breastfeeding when they leave the hospital. This is a result of a comprehensive health promotion campaign about the benefits of breastfeeding and also the ‘skin-to-skin’ or kangaroo care program applied nationally. Cuba also has a network of human breast milk banks for those mothers unable to lactate or who have difficulty producing enough milk for their babies. As a result of these initiatives and programs, Cuban mothers breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months increased from 26% in 2006 to 49% in 2011.

From a pregnant woman’s first intake exam, the importance of exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of her baby’s life is reinforced at every turn, including regular consultations with nutritionists; weekly visits with her family doctor, accompanied by her ob-gyn, in the first month after delivery, every two weeks from 1–2 months old (in the doctor’s office) and every two weeks (once in her family doctor’s office and once in the new mother’s home), from 2 months to 1 year old; National Guidelines for Children Under One, complemented by similar nutritional guidelines for children and adults; and vaccinations against 13 childhood diseases.

One area where Cuba still faces challenges is in maternal mortality. In 2015, the national rate for direct and indirect maternal mortality was 42 deaths per 100,000 live births. That same year, MINSAP concluded an in-depth Reproductive Age Mortality Study (RAMOS), analyzing the quality of data reporting and why maternal mortality rates have stagnated.