By Thandeka Moyo
BULAWAYO – A third of approximately 1,000 babies born prematurely annually at Mpilo Central Hospital die before attaining their first month of life, alarming figures from the hospital show.
The statistics were revealed on Friday at the health institution where the hospital’s board chairperson Sichelesile Moyo-Ncube bemoaned the high number of deaths which in turn contribute to the country’s high infant mortality rate.
She believes that three Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines and a firefly machine for jaundiced babies that were donated and handed over to the hospital by a local organisation Baby Heroes project on Friday will help stem the tide.
Zimbabwe’s under-five mortality rate stands at 79 per 1,000 live births. The country, which is signatory to Millennium Development Goals was expected to have reduced child mortality to at most 31 deaths per 1,000 live births by the end of this year, but Mpilo Central hospital was recording about 333 deaths of pre-term babies annually.
A CPAP machine increases air pressure in one’s throat so that airways do not collapse during breathing.
Moyo-Ncube said the use of similar CPAP and firefly machines in Malawi decreased the infant mortality rate by 30 percent and it was hoped that the results would even be better in Zimbabwe.
She said the deaths were closely linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome which is the leading cause of death in that age group.
“The infant mortality rate in Zimbabwe has a 44 percent of under-fives being accounted by neonatal deaths that’s babies below one month of age. Of these deaths 75 percent of them occur within the first week,” said Moyo-Ncube.
“Mpilo Children’s Hospital will never be the same again after this donation. Through these machines we’re going to reduce the premature babies’ death rate at Mpilo and ultimately contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal number 3 which is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.”
Dr Mary Nyathi, one of the three pediatricians in Bulawayo said the machines will ease the burden of many families who could not afford private hospitals.
“Many pre-term babies have died in the past because of unavailability of such machines. Such services were for the elite who paid about $1,800 for surfactant – a substance needed to help pre-term babies live- so this donation will go a long way in saving lives of citizens,” said Dr Nyathi who has been a consultant at the hospital for the past 35 years.
“In the 1980s, our challenge was polio and dysentery which claimed a lot of our newborn babies. In 2003, HIV was at its peak and about 70 newborn babies died weekly.”
Dr Nyathi said it was through teamwork that Mpilo managed to contain the impact of HIV on newborn babies.
Chengetai Makuni, the founder of Baby Heroes project expressed gratitude to East Meets West Foundation which purchased the machines. The Chronicle