July 1, 2005
At Mulanje Mission Hospital they have a new unit called the Kangaroo Care ward. They also have a similar unit at the Malawian Government hospital, Queen Elizabeth, in Blantyre. They are fascinating places.
One of the problems that health care facilities in developing nations face is how to care for low birth weight babies. In the United States and other nations, these high risk infants are immediately placed in incubators and hooked up to monitors, IVs if necessary, and are watched by highly trained personnel every moment. In developing nations, this is impossible. If (and that is a big “if”) incubators were available, what would happen to the babies if there was a power outage? Where would replacement parts be obtained if a piece of equipment broke? There is a critical shortage of medical personnel here as well. Where would the hospitals get specially trained nurses, doctors and technicians to watch over the infants?
As you can see, high tech is not the way to go here in Malawi and other developing nations. Doctors have developed a much lower tech way of safely getting these tiny newborns through their first perilous days and weeks of life. It is called Kangaroo Care.
Some observant medical people noticed that here in Malawi, infants are very happy and healthy. They determined it was because women almost always have their babies strapped to their backs. If infants are hungry, the mother simply moves the sling around to the front and nurses her child. The doctors decided that this type of care would be especially good for premature and low birth weight babies.
So, the kangaroo care unit at Mulanje has very little high tech equipment in it. There is a heater. The unit is kept very warm (almost body temperature) so that if the babies are not right next to their mother’s skin, they will still not get cold. There is also a humidifier. The air is kept moist to help the babies lungs develop properly. There are also beds, lots of blankets and some comfortable chairs. The KC ward at Queen Elizabeth is not as new or as clean. It is more crowded, but it is just as warm, cozy and humid. Tiny infants are held in place with blankets on their mother’s chests, and are encouraged to nurse often. The mothers sit on their beds and socialize.
The doctors at Mulanje are very pleased with the success rate on the new wing. These high risk infants, whose chances for survival would be very slim without this special care, are now much greater. There is an 80% survival rate.
The babies and mothers are released from the hospital when the baby reaches a weight of 2 kilograms (about 4.5 pounds.)
It is really wonderful to see something that is giving mothers hope and babies a fighting chance.