(A Spanish translation of this blog is available here.)
Photo credits: Molly Miller-Petrie, MCHIP/PATH.
Eighteen-year-old mother Joanna Inirio Ramón flashes a big grin for the cameras, while tiny baby Estarling Mañuel sleeps on, tightly secured to his mother’s chest. When Estarling was born, premature and weighing only 3.5 pounds, he entered the most dangerous time of his life: more than nine million children die each year before they reach five years of age, three-quarters of them during their first week of life. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a full 24% of neonatal deaths are attributable to premature births and low birth weight,1 and the neonatal mortality is estimated to be 15 per 1,000 live births, accounting for 36% of under-five mortality,2 but there are great differences between and within countries.
Fortunately for Joanna and Estarling, their local hospital staff have knowledge of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), an MCHIP-supported and scientifically venerated technique which has been shown to greatly reduce newborn mortality and morbidity in premature and low-birth-weight babies. Originally conceived in Colombia due to lack of enough incubators and other high tech tools for the care of premature and low-birth-weight babies, KMC requires, if possible, constant skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding, and close follow-up.
Directly and through the Latin American and Caribbean network, MCHIP currently supports 10 KMC programs in 8 countries, potentially impacting more than 20,000 mothers and their children.
Several hours north of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, is one such program at the hospital San Vicente de Paul. There Joanna and Estarling are among many mothers and babies who are thriving due to MCHIP’s KMC program. They sit, wrapped gently together, on a bed in a ward reserved for mothers who live too far or are otherwise unable to return to hospital for the multiple visits a week required in the first stage of the program. Other mothers are gathered with their children, many already outgrowing their need for direct skin-to-skin contact, but not for other services. Doctors from all over the Latin American and Caribbean region have come to visit the hospital’s KMC program as part of MCHIP’s first annual conference in the region on the KMC method.
The conference gathered together more than 60 doctors, nurses and experts from over 12 countries for three days this December in Santo Domingo. Participants came together to learn from each other, share experiences and tools, discuss challenges, brainstorm solutions, and begin to build a community of practice. The newest research and innovations in the field were shared, as well as new USAID tools for creating sustainable scale-ups and regional indicators.
(To read more about the conference, click here.)
In a demonstration of community support for the project, representatives from the mayor’s office and the regional governor attended the ceremonies. Their enthusiasm was shared by doctors and patients. Joanna told several doctors from Bolivia: “The important thing is for my baby to be comfortable. With this project, I always have him with me. You feel good keeping them close to you.”
At right, Kangaroo mother Cesarina Estrella and her daughter Edy Jania Estrella sit with MCHIP Newborn Health Advisor Dr. Goldy Mazia at the opening ceremonies. Cesarina told the audience: “The Kangaroo Mother Care program is a program of love, caring and compassion for us mothers. I tell other mothers in my situation to join this program so that they too can feel the great care that it provides for mothers and their babies.”
To learn more about KMC, please visit the Kangaroo Foundation website. A nonprofit foundation and pilot center in Bogota, Colombia, the Kangaroo Foundation acts as a model for other KMC programs in the country and abroad.
Program Assistant, MCHIP/PATH
1 Neonatal Alliance. Advancing in Newborn Health Through Alliances. 2009
2 Reducing Neonatal Mortality and Morbidity in Latin America and The Caribbean: An Interagency Strategic Consensus. 2007