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Tanzania, 15 September 2015: Born early in Zanzibar, kangaroo mothers giving their babies the best start in life

© UNICEF/Tanzania/2015/Bisin
At Mwenbeladu maternity ward, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Khadija Hussein was able to keep her baby girl, born preterm, alive through continuous skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and affection.

  
By Sandra Bisin

Mwenbeladu maternity ward, Stone Town, Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania, 15 September 2015 – Khadidja Hussein strokes her baby girl’s small hand as she is breastfeeding. The rest of the time, two-week old Rumaika is strapped to her mother’s bare chest in a colourful khanga (traditional Swahili fabric) wrap. Her head is covered with a woolen hat, despite the heat. Rumaika was born at 28 weeks weighing less than 1.5 kilos, she is now 1.7 kilos. She is now out of danger. There is a glimpse of hope and happiness in her mother’s eyes.

Khadidja gave birth to twins, but only Rumaika survived. ‘I cried a lot when I lost the first baby. The baby died of asphyxia. We are quite superstitious here and I had the feeling I was going to lose Rumaika as well. But as I came back from the neaonatal ward, the midwives gave me hope. My husband also came and he told everything would be fine. I have been holding Rumaika against my chest since she was born. I think she enjoys it and is growing strong as a result.’
 

Saving a life

‘Before, we had to send preterm babies to the main hospital where they had incubators, but it was risky’, Rozuma Abdulraheem, assistant in charge of the maternity ward, recalls. ‘But kangaroo mother care is the best natural incubator that exists! When the baby is wrapped against the chest of the mother, development of her immune system speeds up. It also boosts milk production for breastfeeding mothers and builds a strong relationship with the mother.’

Mwenbeladu is the only maternity ward in Zanzibar that offers kangaroo care support to mothers.

In Tanzania every year, 213,500 babies are born too soon, 9,400 die from preterm complications – that’s one in every four newborn deaths). Tanzania ranks 12th in the world when it comes to the number of preterm babies. Many of those who do survive may face a lifetime of challenges – from learning disabilities to visual and hearing problems.

Tanzania has made laudable progress in reducing child mortality over the past decades. However, neonatal mortality has stagnated, remaining at 29 per 1,000 between 2005 and 2010. Neonatal causes account for 40 percent of all under-five deaths and are intimately linked to the conditions of the mother, as well as the quality of care received during pregnancy and delivery. Most of the deaths are from birth asphyxia, preterm birth complications, and infections such as sepsis. Every day in Tanzania, 26 babies die for being born too soon.

One of the key priority interventions that has shown promise is ‘kangaroo mother care’, a programme that encourages mothers to wrap their premature babies to their chests using a pouch or simple wrap with skin-to-skin contact. Close body contact with the mother has proven to help stabilize babies’ body temperatures, steady their heart rates and help with breathing.

In a country like Tanzania, where incubators are expensive and of limited availability, Kangaroo Mother Care is an alternative approach for premature baby-care. This process encourages the babies to start controlling their own body temperature and warmth, and also strengthens the emotional bond between mother and child.

© UNICEF/Tanzania/2015/Bisin
At Mwenbeladu maternity ward,, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Khadija Hussein received support on Kangaroo Mother Care through Rozuma Abdulraheem, assistant in charge of the maternity ward.

‘We also teach every father kangaroo care, so they can support the mothers and take care of the child at home. Normally after three days, we would discharge the mother and child to return home, it’s rare for a baby to get sick or worse’, Rozuma adds.>

‘Kangaroo Mother Care was established in Tanzania in 2011 to address preterm birth and reduce newborn mortality by expanding high quality, affordable training. ‘ UNICEF and its partners, the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation, Save the Children, and the Japanese Development agency, plan to roll out to district hospitals in Mbeya and Njombe.

‘We found that the safest place for babies to be nursed was in close contact with their mothers – in a similar way to a kangaroo nursing her baby joey in a pouch’, says Dr. Sudha Sharma, Chief of the UNICEF Tanzania Health and Nutrition programme. ‘Significant benefits for babies were noted including improved stability, better breastfeeding and earlier discharge home’.

 

 
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