Pregnant women at risk get much-needed help

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2007, 12:00am

When Ah Hung (not her real name) looked at her tiny newborn baby - only 1kg - trembling and hiccupping in a hospital cot because of inherited drug-withdrawal symptoms, she knew she had to stop taking drugs.

That was in May last year. Now she is proud of having quit heroin and methadone - thanks to the Comprehensive Child Development Programme, launched early last year by the Hospital Authority, the Department of Health and the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers.

Her baby has also grown healthily after early detoxification treatment.

The programme, with a pilot scheme in Sham Shui Po, Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai and Tseung Kwan O, tries to help women with special needs during their pregnancy. It also follows up on their health after delivery and on their child's development up to the age of six.

The three target groups are heroin or methadone abusers, mental patients and teenage mothers under the age of 18.

The social workers and the hospital staff pay special attention to pregnant women - visiting their homes, accompanying them on antenatal checks, helping them overcome drug habits and teaching them how to take care of their babies.

'I tried to kick the habit many times, especially after I had given birth to my first child (who also suffered from drug withdrawal syndrome) in 2004. But without much external support, I failed,' said Ah Hung, who had taken heroin for nearly eight years.

'Luckily, when I was bearing my second child, the social workers at the methadone clinic invited me to join the programme. They were very supportive and helped me quit heroin and methadone. The experience was very different from my first pregnancy.'

Patrick Ip, a programme doctor, said it had benefited nearly 400 mothers, including 80 drug abusers. He said 65 per cent of the drug abusers kicked their heroin habit, compared with a success rate of 14 per cent before the programme was launched. Also, 14 per cent had quit all drugs, including methadone, compared with 7 per cent in the past.

'For many reasons, drug abusers may not take very good care of their children. Only 77 per cent of them would get their children vaccinated according to the recommended schedule. But in this programme, the compliance rate is over 95 per cent,' Dr Ip said.

Support network

The Comprehensive Child Development Programme was launched in selected venues early last year

It is expected that all hospitals, methadone clinics, and maternity and child health centres will provide the service by 2010