KENYA: Hospitals adopt kangaroo technique to save babies as incubator shortage bites
Ms Maureen Akinyi lovingly clutches her twins, a bundle of joy that she considers a miracle, at the Busia Referral Hospital maternity ward. The two were born prematurely and she did not expect them to live.
At 27 weeks, the twins are among the 17 early-term newborns struggling to survive at the hospital. A full-term pregnancy lasts for 40 weeks.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pre-term birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under five years of age, responsible for nearly one million deaths in 2015.
Every year an estimated 15 million babies are born pre-term (before 37 weeks of gestation) and the number is rising, according to WHO.
Three quarters of the babies can be saved with current, cost-effective interventions including kangaroo mother care; where a baby is carried or closely wrapped around the mother’s chest.
The name of this practice, also known as skin-to-skin contact, is derived from the way kangaroos carry their young ones in pouches after birth.
The technique started in Colombia more than 30 years ago due to a shortage of incubators.
The effort paid off and has quite a following today. The technique also reduces the need for highly skilled staff in the neonatal unit.
After seeing how tinny her children were at birth, Ms Akinyi had little hope that they would live.
The two weighed 1.9 and two kilogrammes respectively. Their internal organs were not fully developed.
They were placed in incubators for three days, but given that the equipment are few they were discharged and introduced to the kangaroo technique so that others could use the incubators.
Ms Akinyi says the effect the technique had on her sons surprised her and was an eye opener.
‘‘Within two weeks my sons had added weight to 2.1 and 2.4 kilogrammes respectively. From the stressed sons they initially were, they became very relaxed. The intimacy, comfort and safety a wrap offers babies is excellent. I love the fact that it allows skin-to-skin contact with my babies and frequent breast-feeding,” she says.
Luckily for Ms Akinyi the hospital is among those in Kenya that have adopted the technique which eliminates the need for expensive equipment in resource poor areas.