By Geneviève Déry 

I don’t know whether you have any children. As for me, I have one. When she was really little, at the age where she would squirm in pain in the evening after being fed, I would try to calm her down and soothe her. Nothing could be done, and I felt powerless. I did some research online (thanks, motherforlife.com!) and tried some of the advice I received from others. “Apply heat to her belly, they sell little teddy bears for that,” “Buckle her into her car seat on top of the dryer while it’s running, the motion will calm her,” “Drink fennel tea,” and so on. I ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself, and in the end, I’d say that time was the best remedy.

Now that my daughter is almost four, I had nearly forgotten all this. Recently, when I was in Mali, it all came back to me. That day, I was talking to the leader of a Red Cross health program in Koulikoro. He was explaining how he and his team had decreased the infant mortality rate in their community. “If you want to see real change, you have to understand the community you’re in and identify the barriers to change.”

What does this have to do with my daughter’s colic, you ask?

In Mali, most infant deaths are associated with diseases that can be treated with medication.In Mali, most infant deaths are associated with diseases that can be treated with medication. What kills babies, among other things, is that these diseases are often detected too late. Why? There are a number of reasons, but in Koulikoro, in the villages where the Red Cross team is working, one of the biggest reasons seems to have to do with tradition.

“Mothers have always been told not to cross the river with their newborn [healthcare services are on the other side]. Before going to see a doctor, they have to wait for all their family members to come bless the child. It’s meant to protect them,” explains Wiri, the local Red Cross project lead. “Meanwhile, days go by, and the newborn’s risk of contracting tuberculosis, measles, pneumonia or pertussis increases.”

“You can’t just show up in a village and disregard their ancestral beliefs. Instead, we chose to educate the village chiefs and the men in the community about the benefits of consultations and early vaccinations,” says Wiri. “Women now cross the river two days after giving birth. The infant mortality rate has dropped dramatically. We’ve even noticed a difference for mothers. Everyone is healthier!”

In both Quebec and Koulikoro, some things don’t change: we all want the best for our children.
For colic, my first instinct was to Google it and ask my friends for advice. Nothing really worked.
What did work, though, was when the doctor told me, “You have to be patient. It will pass. Colic is sometimes a rite of passage with babies.” With that, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

For the families in Koulikoro and most other rural communities in Mali, their instinct was to do what their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had always done. As soon as we encouraged consultations with community health workers and early vaccinations for infants, in addition to respecting their traditions, we saw real change: the infant mortality rate decreased.

After all, having healthy kids is what motivates parents around the world, right?

The success of the program (Maternal, Newborn and Child Health — MNCH) in Mali hinges on one key thing: the respect and involvement of the communities with which we work.
 
Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.