Kyogero and newborn care in Central Uganda: friend or foe?

Kyogero is a popular herbal mixture commonly used in central Uganda used to bath newborns. It is composed of various herbs that are believed to; smoothen the baby’s skin, give blessings to the newborn, immunize the baby against both physical and spiritual diseases, and to improve the child’s intellect. It is also believed that children who are not bathed in kyogero turn out to be unruly and disrespectful.

Kyogero in both raw form (left) and ready to use form in a saucepan (right)

Kyogero is prepared by boiling a mixture of herbs for up to 6-8 hrs after which the resulting solution is used to repeatedly bath the baby for about one week. The process of preparing kyogero is very cumbersome and it’s for this reason that kyogero is reused for up to one week. Part of the kyogero solution is also dropped in the mouth of the baby in an attempt to prevent infantile colic and other ailments. The repeated reuse of kyogero for up to one-week poses a serious infectious disease risk despite it’s perceived advantages.

We encountered kyogero in a recent study we conducted exploring the acceptability of chlorhexidine for umbilical cord care in Central Uganda. In an attempt to uphold the fidelity of the intervention, we discouraged mothers from using any other herbs in addition to chlorhexidine. To our surprise, our participants, who included nurses, stated clearly that they were unwilling to abandon kyogero use for chlorhexidine; but were rather willing to use both and therefore benefit from their combined effects. They further stated that even if they were willing to abandon kyogero they were likely going to fail since it as mainly older relatives who took care of newborns, and these really loved kyogero.

We asked one of our participants about the components of kyogero and they told us:

“We use bombo to bath a child, then we put in another herb called lweza (components of kyogero) We use these because they are the authors/owners of blessings”

When asked why they used kyogero one caretaker said:

“Now for example a girl getting married to a rich man who also has good manners. Have you ever sat down and said so and so’s children are all married to rich men or they all have jobs. So that is one of the benefits of the kyogero according to our grandparents”

Another caretaker said:

“Those are the children you find so calm because they were bathed in that kyogero, such a child is obedient”

Concerning intelligence, a respondent told us:

“there is [in kyogero] what we call “olumanyo” sometimes you mix it in and he drinks so that he grows up with a bright mind.”

We also asked our respondents about the possibility of abandoning kyogero and use only chlorhexidine, a respondent clearly summarized the sentiments we were getting:

“According to me the way I understood it, the essence of introducing chlorhexidine is to hasten the drying up of the cord but not these other things. We still want our blessings, we want our peace, we want everything, we want the baby’s health and all this is in the kyogero. We prevent malaria; we do prevent many diseases through the “kyogero” So they will be able to work together. So you are like someone who has added on to the benefits found in the “kyogero”. We shall count it as a part of kyogero. We shall call it value added kyogero”

The usage of Kyogero is likely to affect compliance to other recommended newborn care practices like exclusive breastfeeding and delayed bathing of the newborn.

Our study recommends a co-existence of the two interventions as further research is conducted to quantify the risk posed by kyogero. In the mean time we can negotiate with caretakers to delay bathing the baby in kyogero until the umbilical cord falls off.

A full reading of our published manuscript can be obtained from any of the following urls;

Way forward: We recommend that the use of kyogero is delayed until the umbilical cord falls off. Further research should be done to determine the safety profile of the herbs used in preparing kyogero.

This blog is cross-posted from the Makerere University Centre of Excellence for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Research. Original post is available here.

About the Author

David Mukunya is a PhD student at the Center for International Health, University of Bergen and also affiliated with the School of Public Health, Makerere University.

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