Born too soon: paving the way to survival of newborns
Thanks to financial support from Takeda Pharmaceuticals, UNICEF is working with the Rwanda Pediatric Association and the UK’s Royal College of Pediatric and Child Health to give prematurely born babies a fighting chance at life
14 June 2022 is a date that will forever be etched in the memory of Rehema Kampire, a resident of Rubavu district in Western Rwanda. It’s the day her baby daughter was prematurely ushered into this world, much to her trepidation and anxiety.
“I experienced birth pangs and was rushed to a nearby clinic, but the medics there couldn’t handle the case and I was transferred to Gisenyi hospital,” she reminisces.
“I had missed a few doctor’s appointments, and I have no medical training whatsoever, but I knew it was way too soon for me to give birth. But the signs were unmistakable: the baby was coming,” she recalls.
At the hospital, Rehema gave birth to a premature baby girl six months and a half into her pregnancy.
She weighed a measly 1.3kgs.
The baby was immediately put under antenatal care, spending the next one and a half months in the hospital’s neonatal ward.
“Honestly, I did not think she would make it,” Rehema sighs.
“Rehema’s case was complicated, but the skilled doctors and nurses at the hospital were able to swiftly treat the baby and ensure that she received the right care, in a timely manner,” says Claudine Uwingabire, one of the nurses at Gisenyi Hospital who handled her case.
Uwase and her colleague, Ananie Maniraguha, a midwife, say that their enhanced performance is owed to skills, equipment, and improved organizational structure supported by UNICEF’s Rwandan Perinatal Improvement Programme (RPIP).
“We lacked skills to use equipment but also used to work in less-than-ideal conditions where all maternity services were in one place, which can risk lives of children in neonatal care, but now we have improved skills and we are able to handle complicated cases,” Ananie Maniraguha disclosed.
Rehema’s baby girl survived, and she now weighs three kilograms after four months which parents call a miracle.
“I named her Melisa Isheja but the nurses nicknamed her Igitangaza (a miracle) because of the miraculous way in which she managed to survive and even thrive despite being prematurely born.”
Rehema’s story is just one of many stories of children and mothers whose lives have been saved under this program which started in 2017- aimed at strengthening the quality of perinatal and neonatal care in Rwandan hospitals and health centers.
As of 2022, RPIP covered 19 hospitals across the country, and 85 primary health centres.
With funding from Takeda’s Global CSR Program in support of the ‘first 1,000 days of life,’ the programme was initiated to bridge persistent gaps in quality of healthcare in the push to reduce maternal and newborn fatalities, despite overall improved primary healthcare in the country.
The results have been telling: neonatal mortality dropped by more than 30% from 2017-2022. Hypothermia – a critical underlying cause of death – dropped from 45% to 12% in maternity wards and from 45% to 6% in neonatal wards based on random checks.
Kangaroo mother care (KMC), where the baby is held for long periods of time on the parent’s chest, is a proven, low-cost intervention to improve growth and survival of small babies. Through institutionalization of this approach, the percentage of eligible babies receiving KMC increased from 65% to 89%. In terms of maternal care, appropriate administration of uterotonics (another life-saving intervention) increased from 22% to 96% .
Julia Battle, the Chief of Health and Nutrition from UNICEF Rwanda had the following to say about the future:
“The results we have achieved over the last five years have been astounding, but we still have far to go. We need to hone this model so that it can be scaled nationally. We need to improve the health and nutrition of mothers during and even before conception. And finally, we need to ensure a smoother referral pathway between facilities and after discharge so that every mother and baby are followed up quickly and appropriately. We are working closely with the Ministry of Health and other partners on improvements in these areas.”
Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited has supported UNICEF since 2017 by funding innovative, multi-country programmes that are improving the lives of millions of mothers and their children, including in Rwanda.