Two hospitals in Viet Nam designated as “Centers of Excellence for Breastfeeding”

The Ministry of Health in cooperation with Alive & Thrive has designated two hospitals as Centers of Excellence for Breastfeeding: Tran Van Thoi Hospital in Ca Mau on August 26 and Can Tho City Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital on August 28, 2019.

“The Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding is awarded to hospitals for creating and maintaining breastfeeding-friendly environments, which is critical to the health of both mothers and their newborns,” said Prof. Nguyen Viet Tien, Deputy Minister of Health.

Read the Centers of Excellence brief here. Download the map here.

Multiple groups are involved in the comprehensive evaluations of a hospital to be deemed a Center of Excellence, including independent assessors and women who recently delivered at the facility. “This is the first-time feedback from mothers who have recently delivered at a hospital has been incorporated into the hospital designation. It reflects the direction of the Vietnamese Minister of Health to improve healthcare services towards patients’ satisfaction,” said Mr. Nguyen Duc Vinh, Director of Maternal and Child Health Department, Ministry of Health.

The Center of Excellence model is important because early initiation of breastfeeding – within the first hour of birth – is highly beneficial to both a mother and a newborn baby. In Viet Nam, 94% of births take place in hospitals, but only 27% of newborns are breastfed within the first hour after birth. This is mainly because skin-to-skin contact is interrupted for weighing, providing vaccines and other interventions that can wait, which prevents newborns from beginning to breastfeed.

“The model focuses on doing the right interventions at the right time after birth to limit unnecessary separation of the mother and newborn. This will facilitate the first embrace and breastfeeding that helps babies to thrive outside the womb by fostering a natural bond between the mother and newborn. It helps transfer warmth, protective bacteria and essential nutrients, antibodies and immune cells to protect from infections,” said Roger Mathisen, Regional Director, Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia.

According to phone surveys conducted under the Center of Excellence initiative, 84% of mothers report that they receive skin-to-skin contact but only 39% of them had pro-longed contact up to 90 minutes. As a result, only 62% of mothers could breastfeed exclusively during their hospital stay.

“Initially, the Can Tho City Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital had difficulties in organizing and unifying the procedures to ensure 90-minute skin-to-skin contact,” said Dr. Nguyen Thuy Thuy Ai, Deputy Director of Can Tho City Obstetrics Hospital. “However, the hospital’s leaders and staff managed to do it. When a baby can crawl to find the mother’s breast and have his or her first initiation on the mother’s chest, both the mother and birth staff feel happy. Our health staff also feel happy and motivated to support mothers to breastfeed exclusively during hospital stay.”

Twenty-eight (28) hospitals have so far applied for the Center of Excellence designation nationwide, including four private hospitals; more than half of them are district hospitals. Eight other hospitals have been designated and will also be awarded in 2019.

Expanding the Center of Excellence designation beyond obstetrics and pediatric hospitals aims to catalyze competition among hospitals, decreasing overload among central and provincial hospitals while increasing equal accessibility to good healthcare for all mothers. The expansion to district level hospitals is also to discourage the use of formula milk. “With the passion of all hospital staff, we commit to the hospital slogan, ‘Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding says no to promotion of formula milk,’” said Dr. Nguyen Van Luan, Deputy Director of Tran Van Thoi General Hospital, which is a district level hospital designated today.

The Ministry’s designation of the hospitals has inspired commitments to gain similar Center of Excellence status at other hospitals. “With the good model set forth by the Can Tho City Obstetrics Hospital, by 2020, the Center of Excellence criteria will be applied to all hospitals with obstetrics departments in Can Tho,” said Mr. Huynh Van Nhanh, Deputy Director of Health Department of Can Tho City. “The designation of the first hospital in Ca Mau as a Center of Excellence gives us motivation to replicate the model towards building a breastfeeding-friendly province,” said Mr. Nguyen Van Dung, Acting Director of Ca Mau Province Department of Health.

The Ministry of Health issued Decision No. 3451/QD-BYT on August 6, 2019 to legalize the Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding designation criteria and mechanism for nationwide application. “The Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding designation is not forever, it is valid for five years,” said Mr. Nguyen Duc Vinh, Director General of Maternal and Child Health Department. “Every five years, Ministry of Health shall conduct re-assessment; every year Department of Health shall conduct hospital quality criteria assessment and every quarter phone survey with mothers shall be implemented.”

The Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding initiative has been developed and implemented with the support from Irish Aid. “Irish Aid is very proud to support the Department of Maternal and Child Health and Alive & Thrive to conduct objective assessments and recognize hospitals as Centers of Excellence as part of improving the quality of maternal and newborn care in the community,” said Ms. Réachbha FitzGerald, Deputy Head of Development of the Embassy of Ireland in Viet Nam.