Sixteen mothers in Uganda die everyday during child birth, according to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011.
Dr. Hanifah Sengendo, the Chief of Party for Saving New Born Lives at Save the Children in Uganda told a media briefing this week that they have identified five simple, low-tech and inexpensive methods that can be used to prevent child deaths at birth.
Sengendo said: “In Uganda we know where the problem of new born deaths comes from and we know the solutions. We just need to do it.”
She also blamed the absence of a basic resuscitation equipment at most health centres in the country that is used to help babies with first-breath difficulties as a cause of death of 3 new born babies in Uganda every day. According to Save the Children, a basic resuscitation equipment costs just 6 dollars or – Ushs 15,000.
She also revealed that a simple technique of holding a baby by the mother to her body in a Kangaroo style, has been found to greatly reduces the chances of death of a baby simply because they are born too soon.
Diane Francisco, the Program Development and Quality Director at Save the Children Uganda, added that the use of a simple injection that is given to mothers at risk of premature birth, can save five babies from death simply because they are born too soon.
Francisco further notes that the use of a simple injectable antibiotic to treat common bacterial infections such as pneumonia and the use of a chemical to clean umbilical cords can together prevent nearly 4 deaths of new born babies. The combined cost of both methods costs between Ushs 2,500 and Ushs 6,000.
The agency says it has focused on new born deaths because funding towards this specific component in the health care system in Uganda is very tiny and yet the potential for lives saved is very high.
For instance, of the 282 children in Uganda that die before celebrating their fifth birthday, 106 perish in the first month of their lives.
The organisation has appealed to government and other funding agencies to allocate more funding more specifically towards providing the simple tools.
Besides targeting more funds towards the low cost interventions, Save the Children has called for strengthening of Uganda’s healthcare systems so mothers have greater access to skilled and motivated birth attendants not just at birth but also before and after the child’s birth till it makes five years.
The report which also assesses performance of other countries in protecting their new born children, puts Uganda among the 50 worst performers in the world, most of whom are African countries. Rwanda, whose healthcare system is often cited as a lesson for other poor countries, is the best performer in East Africa and does not feature in the worst 50 performers.
Francisco attributed this partly to the fact that the small East African country spends 15 percent of its budget on health compared to 9% for Uganda. But more importantly perhaps, it has been noted, Rwanda’s health sector innovations coupled with a zero tolerance to corruption ensures that resources are prioritized and put to best use.