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Enhancing child health through Kangaroo Care

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It was devastating when Emmanuel Gama’s wife, Sarah, of Jaenda village, T/A Chimaliro in Thyolo gave birth to triplets with weight lower than the recommended 2.5 kilogrammes on August 26, 2015 at the district hospital.

Normally, a child is expected to weigh at least 2.5 kilogrammes during the first hours of birth, but this was not the case with Cuthbert, Catherine and Comfort, who were all born with an average low weight of 1.6 kilogrammes.

Sarah, 25, said after undergoing scanning – conducted three days before giving birth— the doctor told her that she was going to give birth to triplets.

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“The fact that I would have three kids terrified me and I actually wept because I felt I could not afford to take care of them,” said Sarah, whose husband is a teacher at Namaona Primary School in the district.

The situation, according to Sarah, became worse when her three kids were born weighing less than the required 2.5 kilogrammes.

After birth, the doctors immediately placed the children under Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC).

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KMC (or skin-to-skin care) is a simple, easy method of caring for new-borns where the mother uses her own body temperature to keep her infant warm. KMC is particularly useful for nursing low birth-weight infants.

Sarah was advised to continue placing her children on her chest one at a time to keep them warm.

“At the hospital, my mother would help me with the other child but after a week we were discharged, my mother and husband would each carry a child using the Kangaroo technique until the children’s weight started normalising,” she said.

Now at four months’ old, Sarah’s children are growing healthier by the day and have exceeded the required 2.5 kilogrammes weight.

But the task of raising their kids has not been easy because of misconceptions and stigma associated with preterm birth and low birth-weight in the country, rendering the task Sarah and her husband faced in raising the children during their first two months enormous.

And, yet, Sarah and her husband are an example of many families in the country whose children were born with low birth-weight but, thanks to the Kangaroo method, they all survived.

There are also many cases of children being born prematurely in the country.

Nutritional concerns, early pregnancies and various diseases such as malaria have been singled out as major factors causing these kinds of births.

According to research conducted by Save the Children, there are wide spread social norms and beliefs that new-born babies are not human beings, and that pre-term babies do not grow and thrive.

As such, a pilot social and behavioural change campaign to mobilise communities to address such harmful beliefs while putting emphasis on individual actions to save new-born babies, specifically low birth weight babies, was launched recently.

The campaign, ‘Khanda ndi Mwayi’, is being implemented in Machinga and Thyolo districts and would help people take responsibility in saving new-born lives.

According to officials, the campaign was implemented under the Government of Malawi’s Moyo ndi Mpamba campaign.

The Khanda ndi Mwayi campaign, which particularly focused on promoting KMC, would also increase the value of new-born babies, and community wide engagements in saving new-born lives.

It is expected that the campaign would help mobilise communities to work together in enhancing quality of life to such children as those born to Sarah and her husband Emmanuel.

Thyolo District Health Officer, Dr Michael Murowa, attested to the fact that the district is still registering increased cases of children born with low weight.

“Most districts in the country, Thyolo in particular, are still registering high cases of pre-term births and of course low birth-weight due to various reasons, but the most important thing is how the community reacts when such cases arise,” Murowa said.

He also stated that the campaign, which will be implemented in Machinga and Thyolo districts, will significantly reduce preventable child deaths.

“These districts are among those highly impacted by low birth-weight babies who account for 19.5 percent of all births in Thyolo.

So the coming in of this campaign is timely and will contribute to the improvement of quality life for low birth-weight babies and newborn health in general,” Murowa said.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Health spokesperson, Adrian Chikumbe, has said government is fully committed to ensuring that children, including newborn babies, are given the chance to survive and thrive.

“The importance of this campaign to new-born babies welfare can never be over emphasised and as government we will continue with efforts aimed at supporting newborn health in the country through empowering people to take control over determinants of newborn health and prevent deaths among new born babies.”

The Khanda ndi Mwayi campaign comes at a time when other projects have focused on survival of under-five children, promoting nutrition, immunisation and acute respiratory infections among others.

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