Help Wanted! Resources to Care for Preterm Infants

My name is Netsayi Chimenya Gowero and I am 24 years old. I am the nurse officer in charge of the neonatal unit at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, in the Southern region of Malawi in a city called Blantyre.

Nurse Netsayi helping a new mother practice skin-to-skin contact, Kangaroo Mother Care with her preterm baby. Photo By: Eldson Chargara/Save the Children

Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to be a nurse. When I finished high school I did not hesitate to apply for nursing school. Through my nursing training and practical work, I developed a passion for babies and felt a need to care for sick newborns. When I was sent to work at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, the neonatal unit was my first choice.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death in Malawi with 36 percent of newborn deaths attributed to preterm birth complications. Born Too Soon: A Global Action Report on Preterm Birth ranked Malawi first in the world for having the highest rate of babies “born too soon” with 18.1 percent born before 37 weeks of gestation.[i]

The most gratifying thing about working in Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital’s neonatal unit is taking care of the most vulnerable patients, preterm babies. Every day I am responsible for looking after at least 30 neonates who have a variety of special needs. For example, we are often forced to mix both preterm and full term babies on one resuscitator. This makes space and control of temperature quite difficult to manage. Preterm infants often require more warmth, different amount of food and need different drugs administered than full term infants. Not only do I go home tired but also stressed and depressed because I know that I have lost lives I shouldn’t have – all because there was not enough CPAP machines, ventilators and other important drugs. Through experience, I have learnt how quickly these babies can respond if an intervention has been done at the right time, and how easily lives are lost if key interventions are not performed.

There is nothing more satisfying then when I see a very sick preterm baby becoming normal and healthy after a life-threatening illness.

However, Malawi is limited in addressing this issue because of a number of challenges including:

  • Shortage of staff (both nursing and medical)
  • Shortage of essential drugs
  • Shortage of working materials.

As a nurse often caring for more than 30 newborns at one time, I have learned that one minute lost, one mistake made, or one cry ignored, can mean a life lost. I also have learned that we cannot stop due to challenges, but rather should use them as stepping stones. The challenges we face and overcome every day give our team of nurses more opportunities to make our neonatal unit a better place.

Resources for health are desperately needed to improve outcomes for newborns. International events such as the International Neonatal Nursing Excellence Awards are key moments to call global attention to the shortage of health workers committed to newborn health. As a runner up of the award – I plan to continue this call to action in my own country.

Stay tuned to the Healthy Newborn Network for a blog on my experience at the award ceremony in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and what I plan to do to build on this exciting opportunity.

Related Resources:

 [i] March of Dimes, PMNCH, Save the Children, WHO. Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth. Eds CP Howson, MV Kinney, JE Lawn. World Health Organization. Geneva, 2012

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