Stakeholders harps on boosting neonatal care centers to tackle infant mortality

By Raphael Jov, Abuja

According to the recent report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 400,000 babies die every year in Nigeria

To this end, some health experts in the country have stressed the need to boosting the number of Neonatal Intensive Care Units in Nigeria will go a long way in overcoming the challenges.

Currently, it has been reported that Nigeria with an estimated population of over 200 million people and estimated 7 million live birth annually has only 23 centres both in public and private facilities to offer respiratory support for newborns.

UNICEF report further stressed that out of 2. 5 million babies that are born die globally each year, more than 400,000 stillborn death take place in Nigeria. This is more than one in ten of all babies

The infant mortality rate for Nigeria in 2019, estimated by the United Nations was 60.662 deaths per 1000 live births, a 2.38% decline from 2018.

This estimate to many is still a far-cry from the actual infant mortality rate, as reporting and accurate data collection is severely undermine in the Nigerian society.

However, even at that Nigeria still ranks higher than countries like Sudan, Ghana, India, Bangladeshi and host of many other nations even with poorer economy.

Premature birth and complications of premature birth still remains highest cause of mortality and morbidity among infants in the first 28 days of life, accounting for 31 per cent of neonatal mortality rate.

Preterm also known as premature birth is defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.

There are sub-categories of preterm birth, based on gestational age: These include extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks), very preterm (28 to 32 weeks), moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks).

And each class or category has problems which are unique and need special medical intervention to provide them a chance to survive.

That is where the role of neonatal intensive care or special baby care units comes in. Neonatal care in Nigeria is still developing.

Most centres provide basic Neonatal Care Services.

In general, statistics stated that Nigeria, with a stillbirth rate of 41.7 per 1,000 births, accounts for one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the African continent.

Stillbirth rates remain nearly 10 times higher in low – income countries than high – income countries, according to experts.

It is pertinent to note that these deaths is a tragedy, especially because the vast majority are preventable.

It is to this end that some health experts in the country have jointly set up a Neonatal Intensive Care unit (NICU) to reduce the high mortality rates in the country.

A Paediatric Consultant at Federal Medical Centre, makurdi and the Founder of First Fertility & Children Hospital, makurdi, Dr. Simon – Peter Gom, told our correspondent the motive behind the establishment of the unit.

“The total number of neonatal ventilators available in the newborn units evaluated was 38, located in 23 of the 54 units

” The private units have 7 (18.4%) while the public units have 31(81.6%) of the neonatal ventilators, State capitals were the location of 14/22 (63.6%) and 24/38 (63.2%) of the ventilators

“They were most commonly available in the South-West and South-South 11(28.9%) and least available in the North-East 2 (5.2%)

” From the above study, it shows that the highest level of neonatal care in Nigeria is the level 3 neonatal intensive care in very few public tertiary hospitals and a few attempts at the services in private hospitals.

“The above statistics paints a gloomy picture and not a promised future for Nigerian babies especially, those who may have the misfortune being born prematurely or have suffered some intrapartum conditions like, meconium aspiration syndrome, perinatal asphyxia and other conditions which they may need help to survive

“It also explains the high infant mortality rate in our country, Nigeria. It is unacceptable and grossly inadequate that a country with an estimated population of over 200 million people and estimated 7 million livebirth annually has only 23 centres both in public and private facilities to offer respiratory support for newborns.

“It is based on this premise that we started a neonatal intensive unit, first of its kind within the Benue valley covering four states, Benue, Nasarawa, Kogi and Taraba states, to offer level 3 neonatal intensive care, as a private facility we saw the need for this services.

“Neonatal intensive care is capital intensive because the country poor infrastructure with a very high foreign exchange rate complicated by the COVID 19 pandemic

“it is not an easy task to accomplish without support from government or non-governmental organizations that are willing or committed to help bring down the high infant mortality rate in the country.

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