While conflict, massive population displacement, and violence have been the usual news from the Middle East and North Africa, the region had some good news for small and preterm babies this September, as the first regional workshop on kangaroo mother care was organized by UNICEF for staff from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Gambia in Beirut, Lebanon.
An estimated 454,000 babies die in first month of life annually in the region, and prematurity is the single largest cause of newborn deaths. Some countries’ gains in child survival have been reversed in the region due to the ongoing humanitarian crises, destruction of hospitals, and the exodus of trained and skilled providers. The UNICEF Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Office (RO), in close collaboration with the H6 partnership has identified newborn mortality reduction as one of the region’s main health priorities.
The workshop was organized as part of regional efforts to reduce preventable newborn deaths. Participants included paediatricians, neonatologists, obstetricians and gynaecologists, general practitioners, and nurses, all largely from public health institutions. Participants from Syria largely came from the private sector or hospitals run by charities.
In this competency-based training, health workers learned clinical skills for managing preterm and low birthweight babies and ensuring they can meet standards of quality care. Learning resources included WHO guidelines and resource materials from Every Preemie–SCALE, Kalafong Hospital South Africa, and global health videos.
The country teams developed action plans for collecting facility-level baseline data, mobilising local support and resources, translating training materials into local languages, and initiating kangaroo mother care programs in their respective hospitals. Participants also formed a social network group to exchange experiences and foster collaboration.
A Syraian participant remarked, “I loved the video sessions and skill-building by demonstrations and practice on mannequins. Learning breast milk expression was very interesting, though I felt a bit embarrassed in the beginning. I also see the potential of engaging private hospitals in Syria. Thank you for this learning opportunity. It reminds us that the world has not forgotten to care about our mothers and babies.”
Featured photo: Participants of Kangaroo Mother Care and Maternal and Perinatal Death Audit, Beirut September 25-29, 2017