By Kim Harding, Technical Advisor, Maternal and Neonatal Health and Nutrition
Nairobi, KENYA – Nutrition International and Kangaroo Foundation Colombia have collaborated on the creation of a road map for countries to scale up Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). Their first draft was presented on May 12th in Nairobi, Kenya, through a meeting convened by Nutrition International and Kenya’s Ministry of Health of Health.
KMC is a newborn care approach recommended for babies born early (preterm) or small (low birth weight), which involves holding the baby skin-to-skin on the mother’s or other family member’s chest, ideally feeding them only breastmilk, and having close follow up of the mother and baby once they return home.
Inspired by how kangaroo mothers carry their young, a doctor in Colombia developed this approach in the 1970’s to address the challenges faced in his hospital including crowding in incubators and many cases of infection and death.
In addition to saving lives, KMC is an excellent way to meet the many needs of preterm and low birth weight babies such as breastfeeding, warmth, protection from infections, safety, stimulation and love.
Despite strong and growing evidence on its benefits however, few countries have scaled up KMC successfully.
Collaborating on a road map for implementing and scaling up Kangaroo Mother Care
Recognizing these gaps, and building on a long history of working to enhance women and children’s health and nutrition, Nutrition International began supporting KMC in 2015 in India, and quickly noticed that most guidance on KMC is aimed at health facilities, and that there is little to guide a national effort to scale up. With this information, Nutrition International approached the Kangaroo Foundation Colombia, an NGO that actively researches and promotes KMC in Colombia and around the world, and began collaborating on a road map to guide planning and implementation of KMC at a national level, and support governments and partners in prioritizing investments in KMC according to their country’s needs.
“The road map draws upon over 20 years of experience and will serve as a supportive tool to all countries interested in assessing the status of KMC in their own country and guiding efforts and investments in this area. We are using a dynamic approach that will provide countries in different stages of KMC implementation a clear pathway as to what is the next step. The road map will serve as a companion, offering guidance on how to best implement KMC from the highest level of care to the community level, therefore helping to ensure continuity of care.”
Scaling up Kangaroo Mother Care in Kenya
An initial draft of the road map was presented in Nairobi, Kenya, at a meeting convened by Nutrition International, the Ministry of Health and Kangaroo Foundation Colombia to assess the status of KMC in Kenya, provide technical updates on KMC and give feedback on where to direct future efforts and investments in KMC, using the road map as a guide. The meeting was timely because the Ministry of Health is leading the scale up of KMC across the country and looking to partners for support.
In addition to representation from the Ministry of Health, Nutrition International and Kangaroo Foundation Colombia, key stakeholders from organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), PATH and UNICEF, senior pediatricians and professors were present at the meeting.
Meeting participants also had the chance to witness the impact of KMC firsthand while visiting the neonatal unit and the KMC ward of the Kenyatta National Hospital. Kenyan mothers told Nutrition International how important KMC is to them, and how much they appreciate spending time with their babies and having physical contact with them, as opposed to them being in an incubator or crib. In fact, one mother affirmed that KMC makes her experience less stressful and allows her to feel more like a mom.
These experiences are reflective of the many benefits of KMC, beyond saving newborns lives. Research suggests KMC may improve maternal mental health, for example by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Nutrition International will continue to work with Kangaroo Foundation Colombia on the KMC road map, and seek input from other KMC experts and stakeholders in order to capture the valuable experience and insight of others. Once it is finalized, we will use the road map to inform our own support to country programs and share it with partners around the world, with the goal of helping to ensure that all preterm and low birth weight babies have the chance to benefit from KMC.
For more information, contact Kim Harding
About Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC)
Neonatal mortality, occurring in the first 28 days of life, accounts for almost half of the total deaths in children under five years of age. While the world has seen major progress in reducing child mortality in recent years, these gains have mainly been in children beyond the newborn period – from birth to 28 days. As a consequence, the global share of under-five deaths occurring during the neonatal period is increasing.Babies who are born small, either because they are born early (preterm) or their growth was limited, are at an even greater risk of death. Complications from the estimated 15 million annual preterm births is one of the leading direct cause of under-five deaths, or one million deaths each year, and is a contributing factor in an at least half of all newborn deaths.
Fortunately, many of these deaths are preventable through evidence-informed, low-cost interventions that can be delivered even in resource-limited areas. One example is kangaroo mother care (KMC), a life-saving intervention for preterm and low birth weight babies, which involves kangaroo nutrition (ideally exclusive breastfeeding), kangaroo position (early, continuous and prolonged skin-to-skin contact), and early discharge from the health facility with follow up.
KMC was developed in the 1970’s in Colombia as an alternative to conventional neonatal care, including incubators, in response to insufficient resources and high rates of newborn illness, death and abandonment.
A large body of research highlights the many benefits of KMC, and shows that it is equal or superior to others forms of care. A recent systematic review showed that KMC reduces the risk of death in low birth weight newborns by 40%, compared to conventional care.