Kampala — MANY times when we talk about premature babies, our focus is on the baby. We tend to ignore the effects premature births have on the parents, especially the mothers, and the health workers.
Much as a premature baby may experience a lot of physical pain, parents and health workers also suffer emotional stress that, if not properly handled, can lead to depression.
This is partly because there are many painful feelings involved: the babies are experiencing painful procedures, the medical staff are experiencing pain as they carry out painful procedures and sometimes have to deny their feelings in order to proceed, and the parents are experiencing pain with their fear that their baby might die.
And in hospitals like ours, because of understaffing and lack of counselling, the nurses get overwhelmed and can snap at the slightest provocation.
In fact, it said in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mulago, it is common to find only one nurse attending to about 30 or more premature babies at night. This is overwhelming, considering the amount of work involved.
Parents and medical staff in our neonatal units need to be helped to cope with many emotions.
Provision for parents' comfort in neonatal units needs to be improved and parents' and babies' voices need to be heard. Taking care of the mental health of parents, infants and their health workers needs should be top priority.
This is why all neonatal units should have counsellors, psychologists or psychotherapists, for parents, staff or both. Hospitals and the ministry of health should look into this crucial matter.