Addressing Critical Knowledge Gaps in Newborn Health

Improving Preterm Birth Care and Prevention: the good news

“The good news is that our government is committed to working with partners to reduce pre-term births”.

The statement was made by Hon. Christine Ondoa Minister for Health in Uganda during last November’s World Prematurity Day, when the government of Uganda renewed its commitment to its mothers and newborns by pledging to improve prevention of preterm birth and care for preterm babies. The government’s actions are aimed at increasing availability, accessibility of quality maternal and newborn care services especially at national level. Today, these commitments are coming to life: the government has commissioned the construction of a 320-bed capacity women’s and neonatal hospital aimed at decongesting Mulago hospital and curbing maternal and neonatal deaths in the country.

Globally, preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and now the number two cause of child mortality. Each year, it is directly responsible for approximately 1 million neonatal deaths, and many of the preterm babies who survive face a lifetime of disability. As many countries push towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 4, progress in reducing preterm mortality is identified as a major hurdle.

Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives Program in Uganda, along with valued partners in country, are supporting the Ministry of Health to take on the fight to reduce neonatal deaths due to prematurity among others. Different stakeholders in the health sector have been engaged to address the problem of preterm births. Uganda’s preterm birth rate is estimated at 14% and causes 38% of Uganda’s neonatal deaths, translating to 16,090 babies each year.

Through interventions at both community and health facility level, pre-term babies are getting an opportunity to live and to grow to their full potential. Most of these interventions are low-cost, and include effective antenatal care including prevention of malaria, giving steroid injections to women with premature labour to help speed up the development of the baby's lungs, teaching and encouraging mothers to practice kangaroo mother care which helps keep the baby warm and facilitates breastfeeding, and prescribing basic antibiotics to manage common neonatal infections. By this we commit and rally support to the global response and commitments made to reduce preterm births.

Uganda’s National Newborn Health Steering Committee, established in 2006 as an advisory arm within the Ministy of Health’s Maternal and Child health cluster, has helped push for the adoption, integration and scaling up of such life saving interventions. The multi-disciplinary committee comprises of members from different backgrounds, portfolios, institutions and organizations, and provides a forum for champions, implementers, researchers, academics and policy makers to regularly meet and share best practices as well as coordinate efforts and outputs for newborn survival.

The construction of a women and neonatal hospital is an encouraging and welcome announcement, and demonstrates the need for continued healthy partnerships and commitment to the cause. The hospital is to be constructed at Mulago Hospital[1] complex. When the hospital becomes operational, it will reduce on the congestion in Mulago, where it is estimated that on a daily basis, between 80 and 100 mothers actually give birth on the floor because the hospital beds are too few. The hospital will be equipped and staffed in right proportions to deliver basic and advanced life saving care to mothers and their babies.

The $34.14m (about sh91.5b) state-of-the-art national maternal and neonatal referral centre construction project, is expected to be up and running in 2016. The hospital will be equipped to meet both and staffed to

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[1] Mulago hospital is the biggest national referral hospital in Uganda.