87,600 preterm babies died last year in Nigeria
*Kangaroo mother care could have saved them, say experts
About 87,600 premature children in Nigeria may have died from complications mainly due to lack of incubators and other specialised devices to care for them in the health facilities.
This is according,Mamaye 2016 factsheet on Nigeria preterm babies.Saidat Alli, 31-year old woman residing in Adeolu street Olodi-Apapa, Lagos, is one of such mothers who lost her premature baby while searching for an incubator.
At 28 weeks’ pregnancy, Saidat started feeling severe abdominal cramps late one Saturday night.“Then, early in the morning I got up and found myself bleeding. It was 5.30am on a Sunday. My husband rushed me to a nearby private hospital,” Saidat recalled.
“At the hospital, the doctor asked if I was feeling any pain, and I told him yes. He then asked if the pain was coming every 10 minutes or so, I also told him it was. I was shocked when the doctor informed me that the pain was contraction. I knew that at 28 weeks, it was too early for me to deliver. My baby was coming out prematurely. Within a short period, our baby boy- Saheed came out, very tiny and frail, weighing 1.2kg.”
That was when their real problem started; the urgent need for an incubator and other specialised care, and the realisation that the hospital has none. According to Saidat, it has no incubator, so they were quickly referred to Ajeromi General Hospital.
“At the general hospital, we were told that there was no free incubator. We were again referred to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH). At LASUTH, we were again turn down because the incubators were all occupied. They referred us to Mother and Child Care Centre (MCC) Ajegunle. The journey from one hospital to another, started taking its toll on the baby; the traffic, and the smoke on the road was too much. Despite wrapping the baby well, I can feel it struggling to breath. On our way to the next hospital, I noticed that baby Saheed was no longer breathing. He died before we could get to the hospital”, she said.
Like baby Saheed, about 87,600 under-five children die yearly due to premature birth complication, according to Mamaye 2016 factsheet on preterm births in Nigeria. Sadly, many of these deaths could have been prevented if proper and specialised care had been available and accessible immediately after birth.
Unknown to many parents, a skin-to-skin form of care between a mother and her baby, known as kangaroo mother care (KMC), is an effective alternative to an incubator. Experts said, the KMC, if initiated immediately and continuously after birth, will save premature babies from death or complications.
Speaking during a Mamaye Media Roundtable on Prematurity in Nigeria, a Professor of Paediatrics at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and president of Nigeria Society of Neonatal Medicine, Prof. Chinyere Ezeaka, explained that KMC is an effective alternative to an incubator.
According to her, 980,000 preterm and low birth weight babies are born each year in Nigeria, yet most health facilities cannot care for them.she said the solution is KMC; “Kangaroo Mother Care is a method of care practiced on babies, newborn, usually preterm, and infants in which the infant is held skin-to-skin with an adult. The adult could be the mother, father, substitute caregiver or a relation who holds or ties the baby skin-to-skin with a thick cloth. So instead of parents running about looking for incubators which is expensive and not so available, they should practice the KMC on their babies.
“It is evidence-based and an affordable alternative to incubator care. Presently in Nigeria, there are not enough incubators at the health facilities. We also have issue of manpower, power supply, and general maintenance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Lancet Neonatal Survival series (2005) have recommended KMC as a standard of care for preterm babies especially in low-income countries”.
She further said that Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) will help stabilise the baby’s heart rate, improve his breathing pattern, improve oxygen saturation in the baby and helps him to gain weights among others.
According to the don, newborn mortality remains one of the challenges confronting Nigeria and other less developed countries.“Each year an estimated 240,000 newborn babies die in their first month of life out of approximately 7 million annual deliveries. Nigeria ranks the highest in Africa in terms of the number of neonatal deaths and second globally.
Premature birth complication is the direct cause of 31 per cent of newborn deaths in Nigeria and 80 per cent indirect cause. Globally, the country ranks 3rd among countries with the highest number of preterm births with an annual preterm birth rate of about 773,600”, Ezeaka noted.
According to her, emphasis should be on prevention of premature birth; “There must be early antenatal care to identify and manage high risk pregnancies.
Problems related to teenage pregnancies, malnutrition and multiple births can increase the chances of preterm births. Other causes include urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney diseases, hypertension, and hard labour.”
*Osakwe is a Maternal and Newborn Child Advocate
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