This piece was originally published on Makerere University Centre of Excellence for Maternal Newborns and Child Health.
My daily work involves moving around six hospitals in East-central Uganda implementing data strengthening interventions to increase capture and quantifying maternal and newborn indicators. Critical to my work is capturing data on babies born too soon. As I perused through registers in the Newborn Special Unit of Jinja Regional Referral Hospital last week, I noticed two excited females wrapping a pair of babies who looked preterm into man’s chest.
Cause of excitement? Kangaroo care by men is not a usual practice at the unit. This raised my curiosity and I sought consent from the gentleman for a quick chat. I found out that he was the father of the babies a one “Isabirye” (Father of Twins as locally titled) Musisi Lawrence of Buwenge, a township close to 30 kilometres north of Jinja town. We had a chart and narrated to me his experience how he has come to save his twin babies.
Now a father to four children, Isabirye appeared composed as his preemies -each weighing a little under 2000 grammes- were wrapped onto his chest. Not even being the lone man among women in the unit practicing kangaroo care could move him. Currently he’s a poster boy for the few men that stand by their wives under such circumstances.“…from the beginning, we have been together in this and I knew about it. The news was not accidental. She came to deliver when we are prepared for the twins because we went for an ultrasound scan 3 times and we were told the number of fetuses in the womb,” a confidant Isabirye intimated to me after asking him on how he received the news.What Isabirye was not prepared for though, was his wife going into labour early: “This has happened before the right time. We were not told whether it would happen too soon. We thought Nabirye [wife] would deliver at right time.”
This early delivery first shocked Isabirye and he even thought that the babies would only live for a few hours. But was relieved later learning that the babies were born alive. He explains: “This was my first time to experience this. I first got scared thinking that when you deliver a preterm, it does not survive but I gained confidence from many people who were around. They told me that even smaller babies than these can be cared for and they grow. This made me confident.”
Our interaction indicated that Isabirye seemed aware of what he was doing and its importance in the survival preterm babies when asked whether he appreciated fathers helping newly delivered mothers with kangaroo care.“I learnt of KMC from the nurses who told us about it. That the babies needed the warmth of their parent to gain strength. When I was told to do it as a father, I accepted given that Nabirye was still under observation after an operation. I decided to do this in her place since we are one.”
In a parting shot at the end of our chat, Isabirye had a message to fellow men in case their wives gave to preterm babies. “The message I am sending out to fellow men is that when you get such a gift of babies, do not take it as a burden because everything comes from God. You have to give courage to the mother, be one in this because this is how you two can work for your children for a good life.”On average Jinja Hospital delivers 540 mothers a month and admits over 120 newborns in the its special care unit. Over 50 percent of these admissions are preterm and low birth weight babies. With these numbers interventions like kangaroo care become handy additional tools to give warmth where incubators are overwhelmed.
With support from the University of California San Francisco, the Makerere University School of Public Health has trained health workers in the Pronto package (obstetric and neonatal emergency training) and running quality improvement cycles in 6 hospitals through the Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi) Study. The hospitals include Jinja Regional Referral, Iganga, Bugiri, Kamuli General, as well as St Francis Buluba and Kamuli Mission.