Saúde Criança: A winning innovation for global family health
Editor's note: This post was written by Vanuza Ramos, a Brazilian journalist and collaborator with Ashoka Changemakers, with contributions from Andrea Boston.
The Saúde Criança Association (Children’s Health Association, or ASC), one of Brazil’s most robust health initiatives, has been recognized—not for the first time—for its clever and comprehensive approach to pediatric and family care.
The organization has been selected as one of three winners in the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio. This competition sought accessible health solutions that can be adapted in any community, anywhere in the world.
ASC’s treatment model is an effective solution for international health care. It goes beyond basic medicines to support lifestyle changes that empower entire families and encourage long-term wellness.
The initiative has been more than 20 years in the making. In 1991, Dr. Vera Cordeiro, a physician at one of the largest public hospitals in Rio de Janeiro, realized that the cause of most pediatric visits wasn’t illness or accident—it was the children’s living conditions.
“When the patient is discharged, they normally return to their homes, to a social context of vulnerability where they lack conditions to continue treatment,” Cordeiro said. “This makes the condition worsen and the patient must return to the hospital, which is yet another problem for a family already weakened by adverse economic and social realities.”
With other professionals from the Lagoa Hospital technical staff, Dr. Cordeiro set out to break this cycle of hospitalization, discharge, and readmission by transforming the lives of children and their families. They founded the ASC to promote the physical, mental, and social health of young patients released to their families and living below the poverty line.
Their holistic approach considers the health and economic status of a child’s family and provides services that target five areas of wellness: the professional development and income of the parents, plus their housing, education, and citizenship.
To join the program, all family members of a recently hospitalized child must undergo an evaluation process. After a screening, the hospital refers families to partner associations that use the Family Action Plan (FAP) methodology. A team of professionals, including social workers, nutritionists, and psychologists, then evaluate the family’s needs.
Once enrolled, the family stays in touch with this same team throughout their two-year participation in the project. A Family Action Plan (FAP) is built around the group’s abilities as a way to generate solutions.
“The Family Action Plan is the DNA of Saúde Criança,” Cordeiro said. This plan includes lectures and training courses, consultations with nutritionists, and document registration, as well as other activities that are implemented through partnerships with major organizations and companies.
Hundreds of volunteers have signed up to further ASC’s mission, and an estimated 40,000 people have had their lives transformed across Brazil—a testament to the involvement of civil society in the project, and of the program’s exceptional social impact.
ASC is an innovation that can indeed cross borders, aligning health care with a systematic effort to combat poverty. The organization has built 11 chapters in six Brazilian states, and its model has been replicated in 23 public hospitals. It is constantly evaluating and evolving to become a model that is replicated widely in Brazil and in other countries with similar social conditions.
For Cordeiro, “the dream is that every public hospital with pediatric care in Brazil has an ASC nearby, and that other Brazilian municipalities adopt the social methodology as public policy to benefit millions of people.”
Associação Saúde Criança (Children’s Health Association) is one of three winners of the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio. Read the ASC competition entry to learn more about how it promotes integrated health and social inclusion, transforming the lives of children, families, and communities.