When she was recognized as an outstanding neonatal nurse, Christine Sammy says things changed rapidly, for her and for newborn health in Kenya. Her peers nominated her for the prestigious International Neonatal Nursing Excellence Awards, which recognizes nurses who specialize in newborn care in resource-challenged settings.
Christine traveled to Northern Ireland in 2013 to receive the award and made a public commitment to call attention to the importance of neonatal nurses in settings like rural Kenya, where she works. Her award garnered her national attention as a successful neonatal nurse. Later that year she received the presidential “Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya” and was profiled on the national television program, Strength of a Woman.
Christine’s awards were based in part on her work to establish a newborn care unit at Kitui District Hospital beginning in 2010. The unit grew from scratch into a recognized center of excellence. Neonatal mortality dropped significantly, as did the number of asphyxiated newborns admitted to the regional hospital in Machakos.
“I was in charge of that newborn care unit, but when I won the award, I was given a chance to lead the entire county,” Christine says. Now she is the Kitui county reproductive health coordinator, in charge of all services for mothers and newborns and for family planning. Kitui is a mostly rural county covering about 25,000 square kilometers in country’s southeast and with a population of about 1.1 million.
Christine says the work of improving neonatal survival and health is supported through partnerships, donors, and the enthusiastic participation of county and national leadership. For example, through a partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, nearly 200 doctors, nurses, and clinicians have been trained in use of long-acting family planning methods as a way to reduce neonatal mortality.
The US Agency for International Development stepped in with delivery kits, heaters, and furniture for use in neonatal emergencies. And the Kitui county government is doing its part to improve infrastructure and procure equipment. Before these improvements, Christine says, “The County had one neonatal unit. Since then, we’ve begun construction of five more facilities, all of which will have maternity theaters, newborn units, and kangaroo care rooms.”
At the national level, Kenya’s first lady, Margaret Kenyatta, launched the “Beyond Zero” campaign, which is providing a mobile health clinic to every county. Kitui received its unit in November 2014 and, under its “Kitui County to Zero Initiative,” has purchased two more. “We use these mobile units to reach mothers in hard-to reach areas – in other words, we are taking healthcare closer to the people,” she says. The county has also strengthened its referral system with the purchase of 20 ambulances.
Christine says she supports other neonatal nurses through “continuous medical education,” or CME. “I move from one unit to another doing job training and mentoring. I use a training kit with humanistic models, and I train nurses to practice their skills on them.” She also leads health promotion activities at the outreach clinics, including promoting the importance of hospital deliveries. “We motivate and involve staff who work directly with the mothers. In 2015, the ministry recognized our performance with a salary increase.”
Christine is especially proud that since 2012, skilled birth attendance rates have increased from 27 percent to 41 percent, and the percentage of mothers completing the recommended four antenatal care visits has more than doubled, from 18 percent to 44 percent. Christine says the political will for reducing neonatal mortality is very strong, not just in Kitui, but also the country at large.
“I’m planning to continue my work in Kitui and to make our county the benchmark for best practices in neonatal health throughout the country,” Christine says. Christine congratulated this year’s International Neonatal Nursing Excellence Award winners for the recognition of their accomplishments, and advised them “to forge ahead and serve as role models for others to follow in their footsteps.”
The 2016 winners will be announced on August 16 at the Council of International Neonatal Nursing Conference in Vancouver, Canada, which sponsors the award along with Save the Children.