This post is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s coverage of a convening of global health and communications experts, openly and creatively discussing the opportunities and challenges of promoting life-saving behavior change. Posted originally on Impatient Optimists.
Written by Charles Wanga and Mary Jane Lacoste
When nurses broke the news to Omari Ali that his premature, twin boys were in need of specialized care from him, the 27-year-old father looked worried and confused. He wondered what could he possibly provide that would help save his tiny sons?
Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), the nurses explained, an intervention that uses skin-to-skin contact—a parent’s own body—to warm and nurture the child. Ali, a car mechanic from Amani Freshi suburb in Stone Town, was nervous. The boys, Idrissa and Issa, were so little, weighing less than 1.5 kilograms. He worried that swaddling the babies to his chest would hurt them in some way. But the nurses at the Mwembeladu Health Center carefully explained to Ali how KMC works, and showed him pictures of others performing this basic but vital function.
Through simple, direct information, Ali understood the benefits of sharing with his wife the daily work of nurturing the babies through skin-to-skin contact. Many African men wouldn’t have contemplated doing what is considered a woman’s job, but Ali jumped right in and arranged to leave work three times a day to partner with his wife, Salma Issa, in this life-saving care.
“You feel very warm, but that’s how it should be, as the child feels as if it was in his mother’s womb,” says Ali in explaining the skin-to-skin care. “I would hold the child in this position [KMC] for about two hours, then I take him to his mother for breastfeeding.”
In Zanzibar, 7 percent of babies are born with low birth weight each year and health providers are teaching parents how to give their babies skin-to-skin contact, protect them from infection, and breastfeed them exclusively. The effort is one of the maternal- and infant-care services funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Mothers and Infants, Safe, Healthy and Alive (MAISHA) Program. Jhpiego, a global health non-profit and Johns Hopkins University affiliate, works with Save the Children and Zanzibar’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to support this intervention.
Today, Ali’s twins are growing and thriving. Idrissa is 2650 grams and Issa weighs 1,650 grams. Ali and his wife are continuing KMC at home for Issa and return to the health center weekly to check on their development.
“Many do not believe when I tell them Idrissa was born premature and very small. He looks normal and healthy. With continued KMC care, his twin brother, Issa, will catch up soon” says Ali.
Nurses Fildaus Abrahman and Zainab Jadid are very impressed with Ali’s dedication to KMC. “He has set a good example for other men to follow. He never missed a day, and one day he slept at the hospital to help his wife with the twins,” says Nurse Zainab.
“Even his wife says that her husband is very committed and continues carrying and warming the twins at home”.