MCHIP and USAID Host First Latin America and the Caribbean Annual Conference on Kangaroo Mother Care

The following was originally published on MCHIP’s blog. Photos by Molly Miller-Petrie, MCHIP / PATH.

Eighteen-year-old mother Joanna Inirio Ramón flashes a big grin for the cameras, while tiny baby Estarling Mañuel sleeps on, tightly secured to his mother’s chest.

USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) hosted the first Latin America and Caribbean Annual Conference on the implementation of the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) Method on December 7-9, 2011, in the Dominican Republic.

KMC—which promotes constant skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding, among other components—is an innovative way of caring for premature babies. Originally designed for use in settings lacking incubators and other high tech tools, KMC has been shown to greatly reduce newborn morbidity and mortality. The MCHIP KMC program is currently implemented and expanding in the Dominican Republic and Paraguay.

The aims of the conference were to:

  • Present recent scientific advances in the field;
  • Share experiences of implementing KMC programming throughout the region;
  • Create a regional network for sustainable implementation of KMC with a standardized methodology and common indicators;
  • Create a community of practice in the region; and
  • Showcase the KMC program supported by MCHIP at the San Vicente de Paul hospital in San Francisco de Macoris.

Participants represented 12 countries in the region, and found many issues in common, including lack of funds, lack of health care staff, and resistance towards innovation and implementation. However, throughout the conference, common solutions were much more popular topics, and there was no shortage of ideas in the regional brainstorming sessions. Participants stressed methods of building awareness and cost-effectiveness tools, among other strategies.

Some countries, such as Haiti, have neonatal death rates as high as 54.2/1,000 births in facilities, mostly due to complications related to prematurity, and have limited infrastructure to help new mothers and babies. Other countries, such as Colombia and Peru, have made great strides in improving maternal and newborn health with the use of successful KMC programs.

Participants from Central America and the Caribbean served as a mini panel and fielded questions from the group at large. A common issue included resistance in the medical community toward accepting KMC as a valid medical intervention despite scientific evidence supporting its implementation. During the conference, a new scientific study linking KMC care to improvements in brain development was presented.

The group also discussed useful indicators for assessing KMC program success. Eventually, the group hopes to decide on a set of common regional indicators for Latin America and the Caribbean. These indicators will be used to document regional progress of the program, and help to track national achievements in improving newborn health.

Doctors and other hospital staff gathered outside the Hospital San Vicente de Paul in San Francisco de Macoris to welcome the group to their site visit.

At the Hospital San Vicente, participants were able to see an example of a successful KMC program in action, touring the facilities, questioning doctors and nurses, and speaking directly with KMC mothers.

Strong community interest in the KMC project in the Dominican Republic has created a great deal of active involvement from prominent regional figures, including the regional governor and local mayor’s office, who attended the ceremonies at San Vicente. Community support is central to both the success and sustainability of KMC programs.

Dr. Peg Marshall, of USAID, Dr. Jorge Hermida, of HCI, and Hospital Director Dr. Ambrosio Rosario sat at the table of honor during the ceremonies at San Vicente de Paul.

Throughout the conference, participants sought to directly exchange information that would be applicable in the field. Many stressed the importance of learning from one another, rather than beginning the implementation from scratch repeatedly in each new hospital or country.

Mothers in the KMC follow-up clinic waited to be seen by health providers about their care. The infants shown below are of various ages, including some older babies who are no longer in need of KMC care but who are being monitored by program staff throughout their first year of life. One of the results of this follow-up has been the reduction of blindness caused by a special condition in prematurity, as babies are examined and treated by a specialized ophthalmologist during the time they are in the KMC program.

KMC mothers shared their experiences with doctors from Bolivia during their tour of the KMC temporary shelter area, where mothers and babies from more distant places can stay and receive the necessary follow up care during the first few weeks postpartum.

With the foundation of the regional network and community of practice initiated at this conference, and the continuation of doctor-to-doctor and implementer-to-implementer regional learning, these programs will be aided in their efforts to expand, grow stronger, and improve efficiency and care for mothers and babies throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

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