Saving the lives of babies born too early in Ethiopia

Assosa, Benishangul-Gumuz region

By Feven Getachew
UNICEF Ethiopia/2021/ Nahom Tesfaye
07 April 2021

In her hospital room, 21-year-old Sibo Bekele cradles her three-day-old baby girl. Leto is Sibo’s first baby and the name means branch. The baby was born prematurely and weighed less than two kilogrammes at birth.

“When my water broke at seven months, I was not worried,” says Sibo. “My husband brought me to the hospital and the nurses took good care of me and my baby.”

Sibo’s assurance came from seeing her own sister give birth at seven months a few years ago.

“My sister also came to the hospital to give birth at seven months and I saw how her baby was able to survive and grow into a healthy child.”

Sibo and her baby are continuously monitored by nurses who are trained in managing premature babies at Assosa Hospital in Benishangul-Gumuz region.

Unlike Sibo, her husband Dereba Nigusse was stressed and emotional when his baby came early and was swiftly taken to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) soon after birth. He thought the worst would happen and his baby wouldn’t survive.

 “I saw that the doctors and nurses were also worried like me, but they supported us very well,” he says.  

Melkamu Ibrahim
Melkamu Ibrahim, one of the six nurses at the NICU center who treats and closely follow-up babies born prematurely or with different complications in Asossa General Hospital.

“Although Leto is able to leave the NICU to be with her mother in the room, she still fragile and requires oxygen support, kangaroo mother care and medication” says Melkamu Ibrahim, one of the six nurses at the Assosa Hospital working in the NICU.

The “Kangaroo Mother Care” technique helps premature infants to gain weight and grow through prolonged skin-to-skin contact with a caregiver. It promotes bonding between parents and their babies and decreases stress and crying.

Asossa General Hospital
Melkamu Ibrahim, one of the six nurses at the NICU center who treats and closely follow-up babies born prematurely or with different complications in Asossa General Hospital.

NICU rooms saves the lives of premature babies and beyond. “We have a baby in the incubator room that was born at 27 weeks and we also have a newborn born at term but had complications such as asphyxia which is an oxygen deficit at birth.” says Melkamu.

Since 2015, UNICEF through the support of Korean Government (KOICA) supported strengthening of community-based newborn care in Benishangul Gumuz region supporting the government’s effort to reduce the high neonatal and under-five mortality rates in the region.

The project has been supporting the implementation of newborn care services at both community and facility levels. Assosa General Hospital, one of the two general hospitals in the region, serves more than 850,000 population from the zone and neighbouring zones including refugees for primary and secondary level curative and preventive service.

UNICEF with funding  Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) further supported capacity building trainings for NICU nurses and quality improvement team members, provision of essential NICU equipment, and on the job mentoring and technical support has been conducted to improve the quality of care that is provided to new-borns with different conditions. As a result of the project’s support to the hospital, the quality of care for newborns has improved at the NICU centre.

Melkamu is one of the nurses who benefitted from the project by receiving the necessary training. “The best part of my day is when I see a baby leave the NICU heathy.”

As the nurses continue to show Sibo how to take care of her baby, she is excited for her future. “I can’t wait to take her home and celebrate her birth with my family,” she says.