Seliphar Musungu. Kakamega
Preterm birth is a global problem and keeps rising every day. According to a report by World Health Organization, there are about 15 million children born prematurely every year in the world, 193,000 of these cases being in Kenya.
Premature birth and its complications have been ranked asthe second leading cause of mortality in neonates and young children.About 13,300 children below the age of five years in Kenya die yearly due to complications caused by prematurity.
In Kakamega County, according to the data from the Kakamega General Hospital, 120 to 150 births are registered monthly. Three-quarters of them are premature births which causes worries to mothers with preterm babies because of the minimal chances of survival.
One of the mothers who gave birth to premature babies is Shally Anyango, a student at Masinde Muliro University. Shally Anyango narrates that after pregnancy screening she was informed that she was carrying twins.On the 6th month which is equivalent to 24 weeks of her gestation period, she started experiencing contractions.
“One day after screening I stated having contractions on my 24th week of pregnancy. Upon visiting the doctor, I gave birth to my twins who were premature; one weighing 1.8 kilograms and the other 850 grams. To prepare me mentally, the doctors advised me to expect anything due to my babies’ complicated state of health. I remained positive as my babies were rushed to MBU since they were underweight and not fully developed…” said Shally
Shally says that two hours after giving birth to two baby girls, she received the sad news that one of them had passed on. Despite the pain she felt for losing her daughter, she was barred from viewing her dead body due to cultural beliefs.
“After two hours, a report from one of the nurses came that one of my babies was no more. I couldn’t believe that since my babies apart from being premature, they were doing so well. My culture does not allow me to see a dead child so as to protect the other. I had to stay strong for the other baby.” Shally said
She narrates that she stayed in the hospital for three months nursing the other twin. She had to embrace a close feeding routine where she was supposed to feed the baby after every three hours, every day. She describes these to be one of the tough moments in her life.
“For my kid to survive, I had to stay in the hospital for three months eating hospital food. Not that I was sick, but because I was having sleepless nights to feed the baby every now and then. It was tough, challenging journey but I thank God my baby was a strong girl.” Said Shally
Sally continues with her narration saying that at some point weight of her baby dropped to six grams and when there was no electricity her babies’ condition worsened. Despite these challenges, she had hope that she would one day walk out of hospital carrying her bundle of joy home.
“One day the power went off and the generator was not working my babies life was at stake, she wasn’t breathing. I was scared that I might lose my baby but I thank God when the doctor wanted to start pumping her electricity came back and my baby was back in the incubator again.” Said Shally
She says that she was able to be transferred to kangaroo when the baby was 1.6 kilograms where there is skin to skin contact with the baby. This is the final stage of care where the baby and the mother spend more timetogether once the baby is stabilize and can survive without the incubator. After the baby is termed healthy by the doctor, the patient is discharged from the hospital.
“Since Dona (survived twin) was 850 grams we had to start from room one which is under 1.5kilograms. Dona dropped to 600 grams we had to pull up to 1.5kg to be able to be transferred to room two. We straggled for two months to attain 1.5kgs and went to room two where we stayed for two weeks and she attained 1.6kgs. We were then transferred to kangaroo where there is skin to skin contact every time. We came out of kangaroo with 1.8kgs in 15th May 2022.” Shally Narrated
She advised other mothers who have preterm babies to remain strong and prayerful since caring for a preterm baby is not an easy task. In addition, having a supportive family and husband is a plus to the growth of the baby and the mother’s mental health.
Doctor Rose Malangachi, who is a pediatricianand the one who takes care of these babies in Kakamega Referral Hospital, is recommending for these services to be extended to all level four hospitals in the 12 sub-counties to reduce congestion at the referral hospital. This will allow mothers who are unable to reach the referral hospital to receive this health care near their homes.
“I only have ten incubators for 80 babies. This makes it hard for us to control these babies temperature as the ratio does not allow. Neonatal mortality rate is high because of the challenges we are facing and I believe if we should capacity build our level four hospitals so that we can decongest the County General Hospital.” Said Malanagchi
Dr Malangachi said that as doctors, they are forced to brake protocols by placing two to three babies per incubator due to lack of enough incubators.
“At the moment I am having two to three per incubator already I have broken protocol but where do I send them and that’s why as a team of pediatrics we have done a lot of mentorship to sub county hospitals. My plea to the county government is to capacity build so that preterms will be provided with enough care.” Said Malangachi
Kakamega county chief officer Felister Mora said that the county government is working towards supporting the health department financially to reduce neonatal mobility and mortality rates of preterm babies.