Malawi Commemorates World Prematurity Day

Guest of Honor Dr. Charles Mwansambo, Principal Secretary responsible for health services, speaks at Malawi’s World Prematurity Day event in Ntchisi District. Photo: Save the Children Malawi

On Friday, November 28, Malawi joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Prematurity Day. The day commemorated under the theme Effective low cost care can save millions of premature babies, took place in Ntchisi District in central Malawi.

Speaking when he presided over the event, the Principal Secretary responsible for health services Dr. Charles Mwansambo said time had come for government and partners to intensify low cost care to save babies born prematurely across the country. While alluding to the fact that Malawi has done very well in reducing deaths of under- 5 children, Mwansambo was quick to point out that the country still leads in prematurity deaths, hence the need for concerted efforts in dealing with it.

“The government of Malawi is committed to reducing deaths of children born prematurely through the Kangaroo Mother Care method, right now plans are underway to introduce this cost-effective and reliable interventions in all health facilities in the country,” said Mwansambo.

During the event, other speakers encouraged people to take an active role in saving babies born prematurely. Senior Chief Malenga urged his community to ensure mothers attend antenatal clinics and deliver at a health facility, stressing this as the only way complications can be timely detected and dealt with professionally.

Mr. and Mrs. Nkombezi give testimony with their fanmily at the World Prematurity Day event in Malawi. Photo: Save the Children Malawi

Lilly Banda, speaking on behalf of USAID, noted that 75% of children born prematurely can be saved through low cost methods like Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), encouraging women and caregivers to adopt this practice of placing a preterm baby on continuous skin-to-skin to regulate the baby’s temperature, prevent infections, and facilitate breastfeeding. She said it was encouraging to note that about 144 hospitals countrywide already have KMC units.

Tiyamike Nkombeza, a child who was born prematurity, attended the World Prematurity Day event. Photo: Save the Children Malawi

“Different partners have worked hard to ensure mothers and children are surviving, the time has come for communities to take an active role in the same by embracing the Kangaroo Mother Care method. People should be on the look for one another when a mother delivers a premature baby within the community,” said Banda.

Studies show that each year in Malawi, 18,000 children die before reaching 28 days of life. This translates to 49 newborn babies dying every day. Sadly, these deaths are due to preventable causes that include infections, complications from being born too soon or having low birth weight and difficulty to initiate breathing at birth. At 18%, prematurity remains one of the highest causes of newborn deaths in Malawi. World Prematurity Day was set aside to raise people’s awareness on the importance of sustaining pre-term babies’ survival through provision of concerted and collective support and care.

Health workers give a demonstration on how newborn resusciation and Helping Babies Breathe (HBB). Photo: Save the Children Malawi

Meeting my children for first time through a glass

Every pregnant mother anticipates meeting her beautiful tiny baby after 38 and some 40 weeks. The expectations are so high such that in her ‘me times’ she keeps thinking about what name to give to the baby, and envisions the reaction of her husband or father of the baby upon being told the good news. There is no chance given to “what ifs’, no chance at all.

But truth be told, pregnancy brings with it surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant ones. Nobody plans for the unexpected, it just happens, like it did for Mr. and Mrs. Misi of Ntchisi District. The year was 2011, and this couple was expecting a baby, not triplets as it turned out to be.

“I had been progressing well with my pregnancy until one afternoon when I started feeling so much pain. This was my seventh month and I thought it was just some pain that would eventually go away,” explained Mrs. Misi.

When the pain became unbearable, she decided to go to the hospital where she delivered her first baby with a birth weight of 1.4kgs, the second was born with 1.6 kilos and the last one was born weighing 1.5kgs. All this while, her husband anxiously waited for a call from the hospital, and he received one telling him that there were actually three children who were very small and were to stay in the hospital for some time.

“I was excited, but at the same time scared. I did not know what to do, and when I got to the hospital I was told that I would only see my children through the glass. It was demoralizing” said Misi.

With the help of nurses at the hospital, the family accepted that the boys were human beings that had a right to live just like any other newborn babies. Mrs Misi was taught how to take care of the babies; how to feed them, bathe them, and change their nappies. The Misi family was introduced to the KMC method.

Family of Mr. and Mrs. Misi at Malawi’s World Prematurity Day with their triplets. Photo: Save the Children Malawi

The whole family took turns to carry the babies the Kangaroo way when we were discharged. My husband, my mother, and our daughter were all dedicated and they all came in handy when I got busy with other household chores or wanted to get a bath,” explained Mrs. Misi to a very attentive audience at Ntchisi Community ground. We would go for check-ups every two weeks, and my boys were picking up weight and progressing well”, continued Mrs. Misi, before her husband chipped in, “but I did not always find it easy at home. My friends made fun of me, they kept asking my motive behind carrying a baby on my tummy and said I looked funny,” explained Mr. Misi amid laughter from the audience. “This can happen to anyone and I urge my fellow men to take an active role if their wives deliver a baby prematurely”

Despite the barriers, the family continued the KMC method and eventually the children were referred to the Under-5 clinic. Now three years old, they boys are healthy and kept running around as their parents shared their experience. As they played, there was no ‘premature baby’ word inscribed on their foreheads. It was just them – three boys born to Mr. and Mrs. Missi in 2011.

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