Kangaroo Mother Care is helping premature babies survive and thrive in Rwanda

UNICEF helps deploy neonatal mentors from the UK to various hospitals in Rwanda, via a partnership with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

By Steve Nzaramba
Mother practices kangaroo care with her newborn baby
UNICEF/UN0319780/Kanobana
21 September 2021

Sitting on her bed talking to other mothers, Evelyne Nyirazirere holds her baby against her chest using the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) method the nurses showed her. Evelyne shares a soft smile with the mothers as she knows her baby is doing well from all the great care provided by the medical staff at Gahini Hospital.

 

"Being close with my baby on a daily basis has helped me gain more trust in my abilities as a mother, and I can see how this method has improved the health of my baby."

Evelyn Nyirazirere

"It can be tiring to carry my baby for more than eight hours a day, but the nurses and doctors have encouraged us," adds Evelyn.

A mother's touch and love can make a massive difference in the development of a child. Introducing the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), a method adapted from the Kangaroo animal's style of caring for young ones by keeping them close to their body (in the pouch) until they have developed sufficiently to leave the mother's pouch.

Rwanda has previously experienced significant preterm infant delivery deaths resulting from hospitals not being equipped to handle the care of preterm babies due to the few incubators in the low-income areas and understaffed neonatal staff. The KMC method is a cost effective initial substitute, and medical practitioners are directly involved in providing and guiding mothers in caring for premature babies.

The technique involves mothers carrying their infants with skin-to-skin contact. The undressed infant is placed on its mother's bare chest to allow the closeness of their bodies to touch and increase body temperature in the baby and other growth developments. This interaction between mother and baby makes the mother the incubator for further development for the baby, with mothers acting as the main source for feeding and stimulation.

Gahini Hospital has seen a remarkable improvement in its care for preterm babies since the KMC method was introduced to its patients. Mothers are given a chance to be with their babies and assist the nurses and doctors in improving the babies' conditions, especially when incubators are few, and the babies respond to the KMC method. Mothers at the hospital shared their experiences on how the method was beneficial to them and their infants.

"The other mothers with me in this room are going through the same health issues with their babies and have made us form a sisterhood to help and support each other when it gets tough. I'm so grateful for the support I am currently getting at this hospital."

Evelyn Nyirazirere

The medical staff at the neonatal department at Gahini Hospital continue to provide the KMC guidance to the mothers who need it. They have seen a significant increase in infants developing with the care of their mothers. The hospital has access to incubators for babies in dire situations, but once the infant has made some progress, they are handed over to the mother to begin the KMC method.

The medical team from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) from the United Kingdom, in partnership with the Rwanda Paediatrics Association (RPA), have spearheaded the KMC method in 12 districts. Their fundamental goal is to enhance the medical staff's knowledge to reduce the infant mortality rate due to the lack of access to equipped neonatal departments.

The success of the medical team receiving the training such as the KMC method is due to the ongoing support from UNICEF Rwanda with the funding from Takeda’s Global CSR Program. The support has had a significant impact on the medical staff providing adequate quality health care services to mothers and children.

Mothers practicing kangaroo care
UNICEF/UN0321627/Kanobana
These mothers are practicing the "Kangaroo Care" technique, which promotes growth, regulates body temperature, and encourages deeper sleep through skin-to-skin contact between her and the babies.