Kangaroo mother care for clinically unstable neonates weighing ≤2000g: Is it feasible at a hospital in Uganda?

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Kangaroo mother care (KMC) for stable neonates ≤2000 g (g) is associated with decreased mortality, sepsis, hypothermia, and length of stay compared to conventional care. The World Health Organization states that KMC “should be initiated… as soon as newborns are clinically stable”. However, the majority of deaths occur in unstable neonates. We aimed to determine the proportion of admitted neonates meeting proposed instability criteria, assess the feasibility of providing KMC to unstable neonates, and evaluate the acceptability of this intervention to parents and providers at Jinja Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda.

This was a mixed-methods study. We recorded data including birthweight, chronological age, and treatments administered from medical charts, and calculated the percentage of clinically unstable neonates, defined as the need for ≥2 medical therapies in the first 48 hours of admission. We enrolled a sample of neonates meeting pre-defined instability criteria. Mothers were counselled to provide KMC as close to continuously as possible. We calculated the median duration of KMC per episode and per day. To explore acceptability, we conducted semi-structured interviews with parents and newborn unit care providers, and analysed data using the thematic content approach.

We included 254 neonates in the audit, 10 neonates in the feasibility sub-study, and 20 participants in the acceptability sub-study. Instability criteria were easily implementable, identifying 89% of neonates as unstable in the audit. The median duration of individual KMC episodes ranged from 115 to 134 minutes. The median daily duration ranged from 4.5 to 9.7 hours. Seventy-five percent of interviewees felt KMC could be used in neonates concurrently receiving other medical therapies. Barriers included lack of resources (beds/space, monitoring devices), privacy issues, inadequate education, and difficulties motivating mothers to devote time to KMC. Recommendations included staff/peer counselling, resources, family support, and community outreach.

There remains a need for an evidence-based approach to consistently define stability criteria for KMC to improve care. We found that KMC for unstable neonates weighing ≤2000g was feasible and acceptable at Jinja Hospital in Uganda. Randomised controlled trials are needed to demonstrate the effect of KMC on survival among unstable neonates in low-resource settings.

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