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Saving newborn lives – Purulia’s Special New Born Care Unit

© Anil Gulati/UNICEF/ 2008
Born with complications of lung injury and poor oxygen saturation at birth, Khusboo's little son survived due to the special care and attention provided in the Sick Newborn Care Unit at Purulia District Hospital.

Anil Gulati and Carol Braganza

Purulia, West Bengal, 25 June 2008:  As the due date drew near, Khusboo and Gaur of Hensla village, Purulia district, West Bengal, were filled with anticipation.  This was their first baby and Khusboo had carefully followed all the doctor’s instructions for antenatal care.

One week after the due date, Khusboo, with slight labour pains, had developed fever.  Diagnosed with eclampsia (birth induced high blood pressure) the couple abandoned their plan to have the baby at home and Khusboo was admitted to the district hospital at Purulia town on the family doctor’s prognosis of obstructed labour. 

On 14 June, a smiling Khusboo was allowed to take the child into her arms for the first time.  After eight days of peering at him through the glass window of the SNCU and feeding him expressed breast milk, she was thrilled to hold him to her breast and comfort him with motherly warmth.

Their son was born a day later, by normal delivery, with a good birth weight of 3 kgs.  It was a prolonged labour, and the baby suffered from chronic birth asphyxia (absence of spontaneous breathing) and had to be resuscitated in the labour room. 

Due to complications he had also sustained lung injury and his oxygen saturation was far below normal (35 vs. 90). 

Immediately, the baby was moved to the Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) of the hospital where he was put under intensive medical care and cardiac monitoring day in and day out. 

Initially he lost weight and was very sick indeed during which time the doctors of the Unit provided regular counseling to the couple to help them cope.  Khusboo, unwell herself after the difficult delivery, attended these sessions, eyes filled with unspeakable fears. 

By the fourth baby began responding and on the fifth day the SNCU staff was able to hold out strong hopes to the anxious couple.

© Anil Gulati/UNICEF/ 2008
The special sick newborn care unit at the Purulia District Hospital.

When we met them on day 14 in the Step Down room of the Unit, a relieved Khusboo cradling her baby in her arms shared, “The hospital saved my son’s life. I will tell everyone that they should come to the hospital for delivery.”

Khusboo and her son will be discharged soon.  Before she returns home she will be counseled and taught hygiene care.  Presently she is learning to be a “kangaroo mother” i.e. hold her baby against her breast to encourage bonding and decrease the effects of the trauma.

State Representative for UNICEF in West Bengal, Lori Calvo said that this is an investment for children, which is helping to save lives. “The Purulia Sick Newborn Care Unit has now been replicated in the nine districts of the state by the State Department of Health and Family Welfare and now they plan to start a new one in Nadia district which is quite encouraging’.

The Special Care Newborn Care Unit  was established in Deben Mahato Sadar hospital in District Purulia, West Bengal in 2003 through the partnership of the West Bengal Health & Family Welfare Department, the local administration, the Society for Applied Studies and UNICEF. 

Started with ten beds, the unit is now able to cater to fourteen very sick babies  and four convalescing babies in the step down room.  The Step Down Unit, added in 2006, caters to babies who are out of danger but who still require sterile atmosphere and special care. 

“It has been a long journey,” says Medical in-charge of the unit, Dr Pradip Bahakat “but we have been able to reduce the mortality rate of sick neonates admitted in this hospital from 384 per thousand in 2003 to 97 per thousand in 2007.” “Particularly important is mortality reduction in low birth weight babies,” he adds.

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