Improving the survival and well-being of new-borns in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

Kangaroo Mother Care supports the survival of low-weight and premature babies

25 July 2022

“I had been experiencing cramps since midnight and around 3 am. I called the Community Health Worker Jaheda to take me to the Camp 17 healthcare centre for delivery. I heard from others that the Primary Healthcare Centre in Camp 17 provides the best service,” said Dhalu while holding her month-old twin daughters wrapped in blankets in her arms.

Although Dhalu lives with her husband and children in Camp 18 of the Rohingya refugee camps, she decided to go to the Primary Healthcare Centre in Camp 17. On arrival, Medical Officer Humayra Ifterkar Shamma and midwife Suborna Akter Sathi quickly examined her.

Midwife Suborna Akther Sathi
UNICEF Bangaldesh/2022/Kiron
Midwife Suborna Akther Sathi explains how ‘kangaroo care’ helps premature babies survive and establish a strong bond with the mother.

“The doctor told me that I was having twins and needed to be referred but I didn’t have time. So, they prepared me for delivery and by 3:30 am, I gave birth to two beautiful daughters Mizan and Sumaiya. Dr. Shamma told me that both my daughters were underweight and this can happen with twins,” said the 20-year-old mother.

Mizan and Sumaiya were low birth weight twins born in early May 2022, weighing 2.1kg and 1.3kg respectively. The medical staff at the health centre spared no time to put the babies directly on the body of their mother, skin-to-skin, like kangaroos carry their babies close to the breast, in the Kangaroo Mother Care position. The midwife explained to Dhalu the benefits of the Kangaroo Mother Care technique, and she felt at ease.

Dhalu, 20, holds her daughter close to her chest for skin-to-skin contact.

The skin-to-skin contact keeps the baby warm, also stabilizes the baby’s heartbeat and breathing, increases the bonding of the baby with the mother and supports the healthy development of the brain.

“We have around 45-50 deliveries here at the Primary Healthcare Centre every month and we only have one or two low birth-weight babies every three months. In such cases, our first priority is to make sure the infant does not have any breathing difficulties. Low birth-weight babies often suffer as they may have low suckling reflexes and cannot breastfeed well. There are risks of low blood sugar as well,” said Dr. Mizanur who is in charge of the facility.

The UNICEF-supported Primary Healthcare Centre has been recently upgraded from a health post. The centre provides curative care, immunization, management of childhood illness services, maternal and newborn care, sexual and reproductive healthcare, ante- and post-natal care as well as family planning services, screening and referral of gender-based violence cases.

There are counselling sessions for pregnant and lactating women and caregivers and a play zone for their children. Currently, the centre has an emergency care booth, a fully equipped delivery room, a post-natal ward, a laboratory where ultra- sonogram support and other tests are performed, as well as a Kangaroo Mother Care room.

Dhalu’s five-year-old son Osman
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Kiron
Dhalu’s five-year-old son Osman lovingly touches the cheek of his newborn sister at the UNICEF PHC in Camp 17.

“The Kangaroo Mother Care technique we implement would not have been possible without the continuous support from UNICEF and its partners, training our staff, ensuring supplies were available and establishing this healthcare centre which was once a health post. We have been able to help the Rohingya refugee community because we are well trained for this approach,” says Dr. Mizanur.

The twin’s grandmother
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Spiridonova
The twin’s grandmother practices kangaroo care to keep the baby warm.

Usually, Kangaroo Mother Care practice promotes breastfeeding. It reduces the mother’s stress and enables early discharge. Kangaroo Mother Care technique is a safe and cost-effective alternative to conventional neonatal care which can reduce morbidity and mortality in newborns and increase breastfeeding rates, particularly in the early hours after birth.

A month later, Mizan and Sumaiya now weigh 3kg and 2.5kg respectively. Dhalu and her husband received counselling and advice about proper nutrition, breastfeeding, post-natal care, hygiene, and other necessary topics.

Dhalu says the Community Health Workers in her area have been very helpful. Community Health Workers are a powerful force who have been successfully connecting patients to proper health care services.

“We counsel pregnant women throughout the time of their pregnancy. We inform them about all the services they can avail of and bring them to the healthcare centre when needed even if it's in the middle of the night. We monitor their antenatal care consultations, their vaccinations and remind them to eat nutritious food and do less work. It is a wonderful job I have - to help women become mothers and being a mother myself - I can understand the joy of being one,” said, Jaheda Khatun, Community Health Worker working at Camp 18.

UNICEF wishes to express sincere gratitude to the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KS Relief) for their continued support for the health and safety of the Rohingya refugees and their host communities.