5 July 2011

Nigeria: Reducing Country's Soaring Newborn Deaths

Samuel Daku and his wife have been married for more than 5 years without having a baby. These have been trying times for the couple. "It's either my mother calls to know if my wife has conceived or not, or it's the neighbours looking at my wife's stomach" Samuel said.

Samuel continues, "after months of waiting; my wife discovered she had missed her period. I encouraged her to visit the hospital but she was reluctant as many of such visits had left her disappointed. But I persuaded her and she did. A pregnancy test was conducted. In a few minutes, the result was out. Vivian was pregnant. Our joy knew no bounds as we waited eagerly to welcome our baby.

But that was not to be as on the day of delivery, my wife went through labour safely, and I was anxiously waiting for the cry of the baby.

I listened eagerly, but noticed the midwives patting the baby when I peeped. I screamed, "nurse what are you doing to my baby", she replied. "the baby is not crying, we have to make him cry."

I watched her turn the baby's head downwards and shook the baby thoroughly, but all that was in vain.

In less than 10 minutes I was told that my child was not breathing, hence was dead.

I could not believe what I was hearing. I pushed the nurse aside and went in to see things for myself. My child lay on the bed, blue and lifeless. My hope of holding my own child after several years of waiting was dashed. I looked at my wife as she wept uncontrollably.

Samuel's baby is one out of the 700 children that die daily in Nigeria within 24 hours of birth.

About 241 thousand die within their first month annually in Nigeria. This makes Nigeria rank highest in the number of new born deaths in Africa.

This also makes Nigeria the 2nd highest in the world after India in neonatal deaths.

Earlier, Nigeria ranked 3rd after India and China. These were the revelations given at the opening of the fourth Annual General Scientific Meeting of the Nigeria Society of Neonatal Medicine (NISONM) tagged "Helping Babies Breath" held in Abuja recently .

The irony of this according to Dr Chinyere Ezeaka, Secretary of NISONM who read out these figure in her opening speech, is that 90% of these deaths are preventable.

According to her, some of these deaths are due to accidents and stillbirth. But asphyxia amounts in 30% of deaths of new born yearly.

Asphyxia is when a normally formed baby is unable to initiate and sustain respiration at birth. Infections amount to about 20% of deaths while prematurity accounts for about 23% in our society.

To stem this tide, NISOMN in collaboration with other health organisations such as Paediatric Association of Nigeria (PAN), UNICEF and the Ministry of Health gathered about 110 doctors, nurses and midwives from all over Nigeria to train health workers on how to resuscitate babies.

During the training, 'Baby Natalia', was the name of the mannequin used to demonstrate to health workers' steps to take in helping to resuscitate babies.

The trainers who divided the participants into groups, demonstrated how they can resuscitate a child from when the child is not breathing to the point where they help the child breath.

Apart from asphyxia, two other reasons that lead to babies death is prematurity and infections.

It was also revealed that only about 35% of newborns are delivered by skilled birth attendants in Nigeria.

Similarly, for the ones who are born premature there are no incubators to help them survive.

In a goodwill message delivered by Dr Philipi Momah, the Director, Family Health in the Federal Ministry of Health, he lamented the dearth of incubators in most hospitals.

According to her, the number of incubators in some hospital, from the latest survey ranges from 0-20.

"Where there are 20 incubators, 48 children need it in the hospital.

Again, where 6 incubators are available; we have almost 50 children that need it to survive, where there is no incubators, 6 people need it."

Hence she commended the effort of NISONM in organizing the training to educate health practitioners on ways to help children.

She also lamented the lack of human resources in most of the hospitals visited during the survey.

The outgoing president of NISONM, Prof. Rapheal S. Oruamabo said: "if we cannot reduce the high neonatal mortality we can never achieve the MDG 4(which is to reduce child mortality amongst children below 5).

So this is a forum to learn, commit into practice and pass down in our communities. We are a community based organisation; once we can impart this knowledge in our communities then our work is done."

Dr Patience Obaigu, a consultant at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital said the workshop was enlightening and practical.

Her words: "Inasmuch as we do this regularly, the fact that it is a practical training, brings to the fore the little errors that we make which go a long way to endanger the life of the baby. This workshop will help train those that are not in urban areas like traditional birth attendants about simple methods that make our babies live." Obaigu says.

For Anita Ayuba, a nurse from Nyanya General Hospital, " the programme is interesting and educative. I have learnt how to resuscitate new babies. I want to encourage NISONM to organise this programme periodically so we will be more enlightened and be able to educate traditional birth attendants. I will practice what I have learnt and I will also teach more women." Ayuba promised.

Dr Garba Muhammad Ashri, a consultant Paediatrician from University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital said every health worker should be empowered with skills that will make the baby live as this will help in reducing neonatal mortality.

He continued, "we are thinking of incorporating this into the curricular for our medical students and health workers at the elementary stages. But again, the training is Modula (practical) and we need more of these kits to be able to train others.

It is believed that with over 110 medical practitioners trained with skills on how to help babies live, babies like that of Samuel will be able to live and bring joy to their parents especially after waiting for such a long period.

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