Simple technique saves babies lives in hard-to-reach communities

The “kangaroo mother care” technique is a simple, yet powerful, self-care method effective in reducing mortality and morbidity in pre-term, low birth weight infants

*Rabiu Musa, Communications Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria
A mother and her baby in Kebbi State
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Musa
05 May 2020

The chances of survival for 5-month old Rahama were looking very slim.

Rahama's 18-year-old mother, Masa’uda Abdullahi, from Argungu in Kebbi State was worried. “I gave birth to Rahama when I was only seven months pregnant. I was very afraid that I was going to lose her,” she said, cradling her baby.

But a health worker who arrived in the community suddenly gave Masa’uda hope.

Afiniki, a midwife with the hard-to-reach outreach team caring for mothers and newborns, introduced Masa’uda to the “kangaroo mother care” technique. With this technique, the mother keeps her low birth, pre-term baby on her bare chest to provide her body’s warmth to her weak baby. The technique helps babies to grow and gain weight. It is a simple, yet powerful, self-care method considered to be a viable alternative to incubators and effective in reducing mortality and morbidity in pre-term, low birth weight infants, especially those in rural and hard-to-reach communities.

In Kebbi State, the project is managed by UNICEF, with funding from the European Union. And despite the COVID-19 pandemic, committed teams of health workers have been active, reaching out to communities and providing healthcare services to those who need it most in these hard-to-reach communities.

“When we arrived in the Tungan Amada community to provide antenatal care and immunization services to pregnant and lactating mothers and young children, we heard about five-day-old Rahama, who weighed just 1.5 kg - compared to a normal weight of 2.6 kg to 4 kg. We were very concerned about Rahama, especially when we saw she was too frail to even open her eyes or breastfeed,” said Afiniki.

Masa’uda and her baby were taken to the nearest health facility, where Masa’uda was trained on how to provide kangaroo mother care.

“She followed all of our instructions carefully. Two weeks later, Rahama’s weight had increased to 1.7 kg, and by the fourth week, her weight had increased to 2 kg. We were all thrilled! Now, at five months, she is already 4 kg,” said Afiniki, visibly happy with Rahama’s steady improvement.

“I followed every instruction the midwife gave me - from how to put Rahama on my chest all the time, to how to clean her body with soft clothes, and how to extract breastmilk and feed her with teaspoon when she was not strong enough to feed on her own. The midwife told me clearly not to feed Rahama anything other than breastmilk. To my greatest surprise, my baby survived and gained weight. She is now six months old, in good health and thriving,” said an elated Masa’uda.

Rahama is a fortunate survivor, who got timely care and medical attention. Few Nigerian children will pull through the ordeal of being born pre-term in a hard-to-reach communities with negligible or poor health care.

Many complicated neonatal health conditions can be avoided if pregnant women are able to visit health centers for regular antenatal care and check-ups.

"For health workers, it is critical to mobilize mothers to seek antenatal care during their pregnancies,” said Afiniki.

Between October 2019 and January 2020, 41 cases of pre-term deliveries were found by the hard-to-reach outreach team in 12 local government areas of Kebbi State. Of these, 29 children survived and 12 died, despite all efforts to save them.

Rahama’s life story could have been different, but for the help of health workers in remote communities in Kebbi State, supported by UNICEF and the European Union.

With the arrival of COVID-19 in Nigeria, this work will no doubt become more challenging. But the team of midwives and essential health care workers are committed to safely supporting the 1,050 hard-to-reach communities with basic medical care through mobile clinics, to ensure that every child is given a chance to survive and thrive – just like Rahama.

 

*In honour of our late colleague, Rabiu Musa, who passed away on May 2, 2020 while working to promote the rights of children in Nigeria and ensuring they can survive and thrive.