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Nalgonda’s SNCU: Changing the face of neonatal care in Andhra Pradesh

By Padmini Copparapu

NALGONDA, India, 18 February 2014 -
It was a warm evening in October when Shantamma’s daughter was born. The doctor was unsure if the baby would survive, as she weighed a perilous 1.2 kilograms (kg), less than half of the normal weight of 2.5 kg. 

Shamtamma’s family started making hurried arrangements to transport the mother and child, over 100 kilometers, from her remote village in Mallepalli to the Niloufer hospital in Hyderabad – the biggest public hospital for newborns in the State. 

Shantamma however had another destination in mind, the small district hospital in Nalgonda, 60 kilometers away.  Shantamma’s decision would prove to be crucial in saving her first born. Even perhaps without realizing it, she had made her way to the first and only district hospital in Andhra Pradesh that had a Level II accredited Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU).

“Someone told me there was a special ward in the District Hospital which is better than any medical college or any private hospital, I didn’t know anything else, but hoped and prayed everything would go smoothly,” says Shantamma. 

Eleven days later, Shantamma was discharged. Both mother and child went home well on the way to recovery. It’s a story that would have ended very differently a year ago, or even today in many parts of the State and the country where SNCUs are still a distant dream. 

An SNCU is especially effective to address the problems of low-birth, pre-term deliveries as it simulates the environment of the womb. The baby is provided warmth, prevented from infection and carefully fed so as to ensure all the systems in its body that have stopped growing and developing on account of premature delivery are back on track.

The Nalgonda SNCU

A stand-alone unit, designed with the technical support of UNICEF, the Nalgonda SNCU is equipped with state-of-the-art machinery including and has round-the-clock specialist doctors, trained nurses and auxiliary staff members. 

Low birth weight, pre-term deliveries and sepsis (infections) are estimated to account for over 80 percent of all infant deaths in Andhra Pradesh today. It was in a bid to combat these challenges that the 20 bedded Nalgonda SNCU was set up in August 2012, as part of a State-wide comprehensive newborn care project by the AP government.  

The project was initiated to reduce neonatal mortality rates that have remained largely unchanged in the last few years, at 28-30 per thousand live births. 

Because of its high standard of care, it became the first SNCU in the State to receive the National Neonatal Forum (NNF) accreditation, the first public sector neonatal unit in Andhra Pradesh to be awarded such recognition and amongst the very few in South India.

“We are able to deal with problems of low-birth weight, pre-terms and sepsis, and this has contributed to save more than three quarters of all the cases we have received. The mortality rates have fallen by at least 50 percent,” says Dr. Khader Jeelani, a pediatrician in the Nalgonda SNCU. 

“This would have been only a dream without this facility and proves SNCUs can play a vital role in improving public healthcare in the districts,” adds Dr. Jeelani.

Stories of healthy babies and happy parents have spread through word-of-mouth and this has resulted in the SNCU opening its doors to more and more patients each day.

The impressive outcomes of the Nalgonda project has given impetus to the government and policy makers to expand the number of such quality new born care facilities across the State. The Government has already embarked on its mission to have over 44 SNCUs covering all the districts of AP.  Teams of doctors and nurses are already being trained in the user-friendly and technological advanced machinery to be used in SNCUs. 

“The Nalgonda project has highlighted the huge potential of these SNCUs in saving newborn lives in Andhra Pradesh. Now, there is confidence that this can be replicated across the State and we will be able to save more newborns in future” explains Dr. Sanjeev Upadhyaya, UNICEF Health Specialist, who initiated the collaboration with the Nalgonda district hospital for the SNCU project. 



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