Skin-to-skin contact could prevent infant deaths
Fifteen million babies in the world are born pre-term each year, and more than 1 million do not survive their first month of life.
This situation is especially alarming in the low and middle-income countries, which account for 98% of all neonatal deaths -- 14 out of 100 babies in Bangladesh are prematurely born, which is above the global average.
Bangladesh ranks seventh out of the top 10 countries with the highest numbers of children under five dying from pre-term birth complications. Neonates account for almost 30% of neonatal deaths, and 61% of the children who die before their fifth birthday die at the newborn period (within 28 days of birth).
Undertaking these premature birth complications is one of the biggest health challenges global leaders are facing. However, awareness, interventions, prevention, and treatment of complications related to premature births have to be prioritized on the global agenda.
There is a wide misconception that pre-term babies require high-technological support. There is an evidence-based simple method called the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) where humans act as incubators for the newborns.
KMC is a novel method where the infant is held skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest to keep warm.
The benefits of KMC are profound: The infant gets warmth, increased breastfeeding support, basic care for infection prevention, and reduced breathing difficulties, which could reduce deaths without the availability of costly neonatal intensive care. As per global evidence, KMC reduces mortality risk by 40% in stabilized under-2kg newborns compared to conventional care.
Moreover, KMC enhances the bond between mother and newborn immediately after birth. The collective benefits of KMC also lead to reduced hospital stay. KMC is less costly and highly effective, which has the potential to save millions of babies who are born too soon.
Recently, the government has taken various initiatives to scale up this method across the country.
However, KMC preparedness at hospitals is required to raise awareness on this technique so that it is embedded in our social, environmental, and biological factors. We must recognize the need and inherent challenges of KMC intervention, and equitably distribute it across the country.
We must train service providers to support KMC, provide motivation to parents and family members to adapt the technique, and popularize this easy-to-use solution which can stop millions of premature babies from dying.
The government must be applauded for its remarkable work in collaboration with other civil society organizations who are consistently presenting evidence-based arguments to roll out KMC. This will play an imminent role in significantly reducing newborn mortality in Bangladesh. However, there is a long way to go till we can ensure that no child has to die from pre-term deaths.
Abul Kalam Azad Chowdhury is the Head of the Neonatology Department of Dhaka Shishu Hospital and a renowned neonatologist in Bangladesh. He is a pioneer of Kangaroo Mother Care intervention in Bangladesh.