Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: Spinal Bifida - Baby Fights for Her Life At National Hospital

Each year, about 300,000 babies are born with a birth defect known as Spina Bifida, a neurological deficiency. In Nigeria, however, there are only 38 Neurosurgeons. Which one of them can come to Baby Dalhatu's rescue?

The joy of every woman is to give birth to a healthy baby; however, it was a different ball game for Mrs. Habiba Dalhatu who gave birth to a baby with neural tube defects called spina bifida and vagina prolapse. The misery of this woman, a house wife based in Keffi, Nasarawa State, began shortly after she was delivered of a baby girl at the Federal Medical Center Keffi.

Her joy of having a new baby was, however, short-lived as the doctors discovered that the baby was born with spina bifida, a birth defect which occurs when the bones of the spine (vertebrae) do not form properly around the baby's spinal cord.

It is worthy to note that the prevalence of birth defect in Nigeria is estimated at 70 out of 1000 births. However, hospital-based statistics reveal that neural tube defect occurs in 2-7 out of every 1000 births. Unfortunately, Nigeria, which is adjudged the giant of Africa with a population of 160 million people, has only 38 Neurosurgeons. Little wonder the Federal Medical Center Keffi, where baby Dalhatu was born had no neurosurgeon or neurosurgical facilities.

Given the fact that there are no neurosurgical facilities in the state to cater for babies born with this defect, surgery for baby Dalhatu, which ought to have been done immediately after birth, was stalled for seven days before she was referred to the National Hospital in Abuja. The delay in her referral led to the contamination of the wound.

The father of the baby, Mr. Dalhatu Adamu who could not hold back his emotions, broke out in uncontrollable tears as he narrated to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, his experiences in the past few days while trying to get medical care for his new born baby.

He said "Almighty Allah gave me a baby but the baby has birth defect, spina bifida and vagina prolapse. The baby was born on December 27, 2012, in Federal Medical Center Keffi. When the defect was noticed on the baby, we were referred to the National Hospital for surgery.

But before we left Keffi,I spent over twenty thousand naira on drugs and tests before the doctor referred us to Abuja where they have neurosurgical facilities. We came to the National Hospital on December 31 and since then, I have been spending money. I have spent over one hundred thousand naira on deposits, tests and all manner of scan. All my money has finished,yet,more money is needed for the surgery and MRI. I was told to bring additional two hundred thousand naira to save the baby, so, I want the public and the government to come to our aid."

The little baby has been receiving treatment at the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) of the National Hospital Abuja, while the parents are yet to raise money required for further medication and surgery. One of the medical personnel at the hospital who pleaded anonymity revealed to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY the condition of the baby.

"Baby Dalhatu Adamu is a week old baby suffering from spina bifida and vaginal prolapse. So far, the Neurosurgeon has been called to review the patient. The wound on the back of the baby has already broken down, so we have to continue with the daily dressing on the back to prevent infection. We are also administering antibiotics on the baby.

Now, we are left with MRI scan of the vertebrae of the back bone to see if there is further defect in the spinal cord and the brain before the surgery. The baby didn't get to us on time, so we will have to wait for the back to heal before surgery to reduce complication."

So far, the case of baby Dalhatu has elicited concern from different people including an NGO, Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Care Foundation. The President of the Foundation Mrs. Olubunmi Lawal, who spoke with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY revealed the prevalence of neural tube defect and the need for aggressive awareness campaign on preventive measures and adequate treatment for babies born with neural tube defects and hydrocephalus in Nigeria.

According to her, "Spina bifida is one of the core areas that the Federal Ministry of Health and the State Ministries of Health should look into. US Center for Disease Control came up with a figure, which revealed that about 12,695 babies are born with neural tube defect in Nigeria. Worldwide, 300,000 babies are born with this disease. Recently in Nigeria, 70 out of 1000 births are with one form of defect or the other and still, we don't have a surveillance system where we monitor our newborns with birth defects."

"Remember,one of the goals of MDGs is reduction of under-five mortality rate and we are talking about newborn. We want to say that seven per cent of newborn deaths is caused by congenital abnormalities which spina bifida is one of them. So, for us to achieve millennium goals especially Goal 4, we need to consider babies born with defects."

She further explained that the interest of the NGO is stirred by the fact that much attention has not been given to babies born with this defects in Nigeria.

She said "What really attracted us to this problem is that much attention has not been given to babies born with this defect in Nigeria. Spina Bifida is one of the severe forms of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. It can be mild, moderate or severe. We have different forms of Spinal Bifida, it can be spinal bifida Occulta, myelomeningocele or meningomyelocele.

"Science has not really known the main cause of spina bifida but we have some risk factors such as diabetes and obesity in mothers. Women that have anything that will increase their body temperature in early pregnancy are also at risk of having a child like this. Most importantly nutrition has a lot of role to play, women that have low folic acid in their system have higher rates of having a child with this deformity.

For the prevention of spinal bifida, we now advocate that every woman of child bearing age should take food fortified with folic acid supplement, before pregnancy and during pregnancy, because this defect occurs in the first month of pregnancy within the 22nd to 28th day of conception when most women do not know they are pregnant."

Mrs. Lawal also revealed the efforts of the NGO in bringing succour to babies born with neural tube defects. "We create awareness, support surgery and early identification. We have strived so hard within our capacity to sensitise the public about neural tube defect and hydrocephalous because prevention is the cure in this case.

A total life time cost of care for a child with spina bifida is about 560,000 dollars (N86.6 million) which we know is not at the disposal of the poor masses".

She, however, stressed on the need for government to rise and tackle the issue of neural tube defects.

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