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Kangaroo Mother Care — Alternative to incubators in rural areas

BY: Delores Mensah Hervie / Daily Graphic / Ghana

 

The body temperature of a newborn must be maintained within a normal range for survival. A high or low body temperature can lead to the death of the newborn, especially vulnerable are the premature babies. However, nature has a plan to deal with this situation when it arises.

Talata Awine was 17 years old when she gave birth to her daughter: Blessing. She lives in Gamborongo, a village near Zorko in the Bongo District of the Upper East Region. When Blessing was born, she weighed only 1.5kg. The midwife at Bongo District Hospital, where Talata was referred to when she was in labour, introduced Talata to the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC).

Full-term newborns have a special fat called “brown fat” which keeps them warm. Premature infants, unfortunately, are born before they make the brown fat.  To manage this situation, the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) has been advocated as an alternative method to cater for premature babies in health facilities where incubator care is inadequate or non-existent.  

Expert information

According to experts, the KMC has proven to be a powerful method of promoting the health and well-being of babies born pre-term because of the effectiveness in thermal control, breastfeeding and bonding between the mother and the newborn.

Talata was eager to save the life of Blessing, so she immediately put the baby on her chest just as she was taught and she continued to practise this method while her baby was still young. “I always carry my baby in front because she is small, contrary to the normal practice of carrying baby at the back. The people in my community asked why I was carrying her in front, others even said I would kill my baby, but I kept on doing it,” said Talata.

Experts have again argued that good quality care interventions for low birth weight infants can reduce neonatal mortality in low income countries such as Ghana and urged nursing mothers to embrace the system. It has also been observed that babies receiving KMC experience an average shorter stay in hospital compared to those with conventional care. Moreover, babies receiving KMC have fewer infections and gain weight more quickly. 

Talata’s baby grew quickly and gained the much-needed weight because she heeded the advice of the midwife.

Benefits of KMC

Benefits of KMC to the baby include better growth and weight gain, temperature is better maintained, protection against infections and they experience less stress. Benefits to the mother include the bonding experience with her baby, improved lactation and learning how to cope with a small pre-term baby. The hospital also benefits from KMC because it is a very cost-effective method that requires less staff and expensive equipment while the mortality and morbidity rates reduce (Ludington-Hoe et al, 2008; Ruiz et al, 2007).

According to the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), KMC has been particularly successful in the Upper East and Northern regions. With the support of the Ghana Health Service and other developing partners, the introduction of the KMC concept has opened a great opportunity for all to avert neonatal deaths even without sophisticated technology.

The writer is an Assistant Lecturer, Accra Polytechnic and was formerly with Project Five Alive! that is working to improve child and maternal health.