I have a passion for babies. I like helping babies so much” says Mary a nurse at Mbagathi District Hospital
“I have a passion for babies. I like helping babies so much,” said Sister Mary at Mbagathi District Hospital. For the last eight years, she has worked as Head Nurse in charge of the hospital’s Newborn Unit. Serving up to 80 patients per month, Mary oversees the admission and care of at-risk babies, many of whom were born preterm and are fighting for a chance at life.
Approximately 193,000 premature babies are born in Kenya each year; a staggering number putting stress on hospitals like Mbagathi that serve massive populations with a limited number of resources. But despite the challenges, health workers like Mary are committed to reducing the mortality rate in their communities.
She’s inspired to come to work every morning and make a difference for children and families in need. “They are human beings who need to be nurtured so they can be people in the future,” She said. “They have a life ahead of them.”
Prematurity accounts for 12% of all under-5 deaths in Kenya each year. A key component in reducing the mortality rate is Kangaroo Mother Care, which Mary says has been instrumental to improving infant mortality rate— and so much more.
KMC refers to the practice of skin-to-skin contact to care for preterm babies. It improves breastfeeding, promoting faster weight gain and a shorter hospital stay.
Support from the Red Nose Day Fund helped Save the Children strengthen the skills and capacity of health providers so they can deliver higher quality care to preterm and low-birth-weight babies. At Mbagathi, this meant training staff like Mary to implement KMC in the facility and providing the necessary supplies to keep the program running smoothly.
Before KMC, Mary recalls days when she’d regularly see four newborns sharing an incubator. This led to cross-infection and an average hospital stay of six months for mother and baby— an expensive cost for the hospital which provides necessity like water, formula, food, and clean linens.
“But when we started continuous Kangaroo Mother Care, the average period of stay became four to 21 days,” said Mary. “Now we only have one or two babies in an incubator and the length of stay is very short, so there’s a lot of decongestion.”
As KMC was adopted in the Newborn Unit, Mary saw more babies breastfeeding and an almost complete reduction in the need for formula milk which had cost the hospital so much before, except for two tins per month that are used by babies whose mothers are sick or have died. For mothers who put their babies in the Kangaroo position, milk production is quite enough,” Mary explained. It’s another indicator of success for the program, considering breast milk is the safest and healthiest food for infants—no substitute comes close to providing the same benefits.
While so much progress has been made since continuous KMC was introduced, more help is needed to ensure mothers and babies receive the support they need after leaving the hospital. Follow- up attendance continues to be a challenge due to distance and public transportation fare. Mary, putting her patients first, makes home visits in her free time for families who’ve missed appointments at the facility.
“KMC should be spread to the whole country, so even if they can’t come here, they can still receive the services at their nearest health center,” Mary suggested.
Another challenge stems from social stigma regarding gender roles. “The fathers haven’t taken up Kangaroo Care so much,” says Mary, explaining that in Kenyan culture, child care is regarded as a mother’s affair. “We need advocacy for these men to take up KMC… so that the mortality rate continues to go down.”
“A baby who is born preterm should not die because of neglect, because of lack of funds, it’s not fair,” Mary said. “It’s not fair at all.”