Mother’s tears of joy over dramatic survival of her critically-ill newborn

Rokeya was recovering from anaesthesia after the C-section at Khalishpur Clinic, when a doctor told her that her child should immediately be taken to Khulna Medical College Hospital (KMCH) because of the breathing problems.

Akram Hosen
Rokeya Khatun was left with little hope when her newborn did not breathe normally for what seemed like two hours.
UNICEF/Khaliduzzaman

10 October 2019

Rokeya Khatun was left with little hope when her newborn did not breathe normally for what seemed like two hours. She had good reason to be scared - four of her earlier pregnancies had resulted in miscarriages. And her baby girl was too weak even to cry.

Rokeya was recovering from anaesthesia after her C-section at Khalishpur Clinic, when a doctor told her that her child should immediately be taken to Khulna Medical College Hospital (KMCH) because of the breathing problems. Separated from her baby for three days, Rokeya had to remain in the clinic to recover from the surgery and endured the additional agony of being unable to hold her baby.  She only found peace when her husband told her that the child was making a speedy recovery at the KMCH.


“The first few days after birth seem like a distant nightmare now… I’d never felt happier than the moment they told me that my baby was no longer sick.”

Rokeya Khatun, mother


Fast forward six months, the 22-year-old mother is now spending the happiest days of her life with her baby. “The first few days after birth seem like a distant nightmare now… I’d never felt happier than the moment they told me that my baby was no longer sick,” says Rokeya as she gently cradles the infant in her arms. She named her baby Jannatun Nesa, which roughly translates as the woman from heaven in Arabic. “This sounds like the perfect name that conveys what she means to us.”

A resident of Karigorpara area in the south-western city of Khulna, Rokeya’s husband Jainul Abedin is a construction worker with no fixed income. They live in a flimsy tin shack with barely any of the civic amenities that are taken for granted in other big cities. On rainy days, she has to use kitchen utensils to catch water from the leaky roof. When her labour pain started, her husband took her to a nearby clinic. But it had no equipment or skilled professionals to treat a critically-ill baby.

“In fact, in the south-western part of Bangladesh, the KMCH is the only facility with a Special Care Newborn Unit (SCANU), which is essential to save critically-ill newborns’ lives,“ says the head of paediatrics, Professor AKM Mamunur Rashid.

Rokeya realises how fortunate she and her child have been. “I was rather lucky that one of the doctors at the clinic suggested that my baby should be taken to the hospital because no one in my family knew about the SCANU,” she says. 


“In the south-western part of Bangladesh, the Khulna Medical College Hospital is the only facility with a Special Care Newborn Unit (SCANU), which is essential to save critically ill newborns’ lives.”

AKM Mamunur Rashid, Head of Paediatrics


Doctors later explained to her that her baby was born with low birthweight and had suffered asphyxia. The baby’s breathing difficulties could have caused serious damage if she had not received treatment.

The KMCH at the heart of Khulna city is about one hour’s drive from Rokeya’s home. Since the specialised service has established itself in the region, people from districts many miles away from Khulna go there with their critically ill newborns.

Senior Staff Nurse Mamataz Begum, who is in charge of the special unit, remembers treating Rokeya’s baby. “When the baby was brought here, we used a suction machine to clean the airway. We then gave her oxygen and put her in one of our automatic radiant warmers to control her temperature. Her health improved quickly and we could release her in just three days.”

SCANU AT THE KHULNA MEDICAL COLLEGE HOSPITAL

Established with support from UNICEF and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the SCANU became operational in December 2018 with 45 cots for newborns. It was set up as part of a project entitled “Improving Effective Coverage of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health”.

The brand new and immaculately clean unit is located on the third floor of the hospital beside the Paediatric Ward. It is equipped with a nursing station, doctor’s room, hand-washing area, a Kangaroo Mother Care area, separate in-born and out-born areas and an intensive care unit.

“Moreover, our health care providers now have the opportunity to learn the skills needed to run such a facility,” says Professor Rashid.

“SCANUs are necessary to reach the country’s goal of ending preventable child deaths by 2035,” he says.


“The introduction of SCANU has clearly shown that some newborn deaths are preventable.”

AKM Mamunur Rashid, Head of Paediatrics


SAVING NEWBORN LIVES

Experts say that over 60 percent of infant deaths occur in the first 28 days of life. The major causes include infections, asphyxia, low birth weight, acute respiratory infection, birth injury and congenital anomalies. The sick newborns need very special care in a comfortable and clean environment.

“The introduction of SCANU has clearly shown that some newborn deaths are preventable,” says Prof Rashid.

Due to a high rate of home deliveries with no trained birth attendants, pregnancy complications remain all too common in Bangladesh.

Standing at the door of her tin shack while her daughter sleeps inside, Rokeya says, “I hope that mothers do not neglect the health of their children. They should take them to hospital, instead of anywhere else.”

For more information, please check out the video here.