Kangaroo Foundation to Receive 2012 Carlos Slim Award

The following was written by Gary Darmstadt and Wolfgang Munar, originally posted on Impatient Optimists.

In the late 1970s, when Wolfgang Munar, senior program officer for Family Health here at the foundation was a medical student in his native Colombia in the late 70s, he learned of a very simple method to save premature newborns. The method had been developed by two Colombian pediatricians, Edgar Rey and Hector Martinez, and was simply called Kangaroo Mother Care. Now, more than 30 years later, Wolfgang is helping to spread the word about how important kangaroo care is in helping to save the lives of newborns – especially in the poorest countries in the world.

Deceptively simple, Rey and Martinez described their approach as based on some of the oldest known human practices and behaviors: the provision of maternal warmth, love, and breast milk. Years later, study after study has demonstrated that this approach is effective in promoting breastfeeding, reducing neonatal infection, and significantly improving the odds of survival.

A recent review reported that kangaroo care cuts the risk of mortality of preterm infants in developing countries in half. The caveat in the original approach –and a feature that remains unchanged in Colombia to this day- was that kangaroo care was to be provided under medical supervision and within specialized hospital settings.

More than 30 years later, however, this highly effective, live-saving practice is practiced in many parts of the world and has been adapted to non-institutional settings where resources are scarce.

This year the Carlos Slim Health Institute, in Mexico, has chosen Colombia’s Kangaroo Foundation to be the recipient of the 2012 Carlos Slim Award as Exceptional Health Institution. The Jury, of which Wolfgang is a member, recognized the innovative and easily replicable nature of the Kangaroo Mother Care and its potential for saving the lives of millions of newborns around the world.

Coverage of this highly cost effective intervention remains unacceptably low, however, in light of the tremendous potential for impact if it were widely adopted. It is our hope that this award will stimulate policy makers and health care professionals around the world to champion its adoption in health care facilities.

Moreover, Gary Darmstadt, director of Family Health here at the foundation, has witnessed mothers providing this care to their newborns, and has seen the tremendous benefits it provides to newborns and their mothers in community settings. Its safety, simplicity and effectiveness suggest that this intervention ought to be extended to all infants – preterm and term – regardless of place of birth, the world over.

One comment
  1. As director of the KANGAROO FOUNDATION from Colombia I want to do some comments on the 2012 Carlos Slim Award as Exceptional Health Institution we just received .

    It is a great honor and the result of more than 15 years of hard work of a group of concerned health care professionals and researchers, in Bogotá, Colombia . We decided to study, enhance and disseminate the knowledge and skills that conform the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) method, particularly in resources limited environments, such as those prevalent in hospitals from middle and low income countries. We have chosen to work in three major areas:
    1) characterizing, enhancing and refining the intervention by means of multidisciplinary research involving not only biomedical and clinical aspects but emotional, psychosocial and neurodevelopmental issues as well;
    2) providing direct care in 3 KMC pilot centers in Bogotá and Medellin,
    3) conducting activities aim to the dissemination and transference of knowledge and technology associated with the KMC Method, to all those who might benefit from it, with the highest possible quality standards, involving health care teams from more 30 countries mainly low income countries from Africa, Asia, Indian sub-continent and Latin America. We collaborated with MCHIP these last 2 years for the training of 5 KMC pilot centers in 5 central American countries and we can say with experience that KMC implementation is not easy either simple. South South knowledge transfer based on respect of differences and good scientific research have been the key of the success of our work.
    Let me remember you what is KMC:
    Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) was devised in Colombia more than 30 years ago (1978) by a paediatrician (E. Rey┼1992) and has emerged as a method to enhance LBW infants’ health care, especially suitable for developing countries. KMC is an evidence-based technology, centred in the mother as the main provider of heat and stimulation (skin-to-skin contact, i.e. “kangaroo” position), nutrition (maternal milk) and close monitoring after early discharge at home in KMC. This has distinct advantages including, but not limited, to rationalizing the use of human and technological resources which has proven to be a critical advantage in developing countries It decreases the LBWI morbimortality, promote the breatfeeding and other very important benefits are related to neurodevelopmental protection effect and enhancement of the bonding between the mother and infant, and the rest of the family. There are no scientific evidences actually of benefits of KMC on mortality at community level or before stabilization of the infant. That s why we decided in 1994 to try to train one KMC pilot center in each country and to stimulate them, once they were able to implement KMC in their center, to diffuse the method up to the primary heath care center, establishing a KMC national network. It takes time and resistances are frequents and must be solved to be able to integrate KMC as a routine in the care of the LBW newborn.
    20 millons of LBW infants are born each year and candidates to KMC, we have still a lot of work to give access to KMC to all these premature and low birth weight infants around the world. We are now a member of the Latin America and Caribbean Newborn Health Alliance and I hope we will all work together to reach this goal.
    Warm regards

    Nathalie Charpak
    Fundacion Canguro/Kangaroo Foundation

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