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Kangaroo mother care saves babies

Aisha Gamisha, 21, adoringly cradles her seven-month-old son, Miracle Nkata, a son she considers a real miracle.

Nkata was born two months premature, and his mother did not expect him to live.

“On May 24 last year, I came to this [Nakeseke] hospital and was admitted because I had malaria. I spent two days and I was going to be discharged but then I got labour pains. The midwife told me that the baby was coming and sometime later, I gave birth,” Gamisha narrates.

The baby weighed 1.6kg, half your usual healthy baby.

“I was referred to Kiwoko hospital but I did not have money and I took my baby home,” Gamisha says.

Nakaseke, a public hospital, does not have incubators needed for premature babies but the private Kiwoko does. At home, Gamisha converted one room into a crude incubator.

“My mother and I lit a charcoal stove which we kept burning till the doctors said it was alright to stop,” Gamisha says.

Even when the stove was burning, Gamisha had to keep her baby warm through kangaroo mother care.

“I strapped the baby on my chest and covered him with my blouse from morning to evening. When I needed a break, say for lunch, my mother would strap him to her chest,” Gamisha says.

When Nkata was two months old, Gamisha took him to the hospital for immunisation and he weighed 2.2kg, which made Gamisha proud. Today, Nkata is thriving. Her mother cannot believe he has grown. Had it not been for the kangaroo mother care, Gamisha says her son had little chance of surviving.

According to Dr Davis Mubeezi, the medical superintendent of Nakaseke hospital, the likelihood of premature and low-weight babies surviving in poor conditions, where mothers have no access to incubators, is low.

“Premature babies need warmth, nourishment and protection from infections, conditions an incubator can provide. But, we don’t have incubators here; so, we used to refer mothers to other hospitals. Those who couldn’t afford the service in other hospitals sometimes lost their babies,” Mubeezi said.

After training in providing kangaroo mother care under the Saving Mothers, Saving Lives project in 2012, things are improving.

“In December [2013], we did not lose any baby and prior to that, starting 2013, newborn deaths had been declining. It is unfortunate we lost three babies in January [2014] but for people who used to lose eight babies a month, we have come from far,” Mubeezi says.

Late last year, the ministry of Health announced it had prioritised kangaroo mother care, among other interventions to save 15,200 babies that die in the first 28 days annually owing to conditions arising from being born prematurely.

Reduction of newborn deaths last month got a boost, as Save the Children launched a Newborn pledge aimed at encouraging governments and stakeholders to act.

Kangaroo mother care involves putting a premature or low-weight baby in direct skin contact with their mother. The baby, who is not clothed, is secured on the mother’s chest by a wrap and the mother wears a shirt over the baby. The baby’s head is left in the open.

In this position, the babies can easily breastfeed and their temperature is better regulated like it would have been in an incubator. The mother’s breasts heat up or cool down depending on the baby’s needs. Kangaroo mother care also enables mothers to bond with babies, making it less easy for mothers to abandon them.

Because of the advantages it provides, doctors have said that kangaroo mother care is as good as incubators or even better.

One study in Colombia showed that kangaroo-care babies had shorter hospital stays and shorter severe infections than incubator babies.

dnabiruma@observer.ug

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