For over 16 years, the Nursery also known as the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), at the Bamenda regional hospital has been described by many as a “prison” rather than a safe haven for premature babies. This was due to the offensive sight of the ward which was dangerous to the babies. On the 5th of February 2020, this notion was destroyed by the administration of the hospital during the launch of the renovated Neonatology ward.
Most babies admitted to the NICU are preterm (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), have low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), or have a health condition that needs special care. Such a child is referred to as “a high risk new born”. The nursery is a very sensitive part of the hospital. From 2004 up to 2007, the ward had just two boxes in the new born service which had to accommodate premature babies brought in from all parts of the Region. This was installed in a tight space which made work difficult for the staff and new mothers.
The limited number of incubators has greatly encouraged the kangaroo care, a practice sometimes called skin-to-skin contact. It is a technique of newborn care where babies are kept chest-to-chest and skin-to-skin with a parent, typically their mother to help them grow. Over the years, close to 10 to 15 mothers who had to use the kangaroo care painfully sat on tools in a tight space from 7 to 8 hours per day for one month.
The colours of the walls and ceilings of the ward had changed from white to black due to humidity. The construction of the ward had little or no breathing gap making it air tight and unclean. The renovation has provided the building with protected windows which can keep mosquitoes out as well as proper ventilation.
Dr Frida Sunjo, the chief of service for the neonatology ward, says the renovation has provided these mothers with some level of comfort.
“The new chairs are more comfortable than the stools. Imagine a woman who is just from delivery, sitting upright on a tool for 7 to 8 hours per day for one month! Normally they are supposed to have their own space and lie in bed while caring for their babies”. She added.
Feh Linda, an IDP from Bali was rescued from a gun exchange between separatists’ fighters and military forces in a bush in Bali while she was 7 months pregnant. She had a premature baby and is thankful the unit could save her baby. ”I never thought my baby would survive at 7 months old so I am happy for the facilities they have. If you follow the care plan given by the doctor, your baby will grow well”.
Bih Mildred has been at the hospital for 10 days and her baby had breathing distress. “She was rushed to the Nursery and kept on oxygen for 2 days. She couldn’t suck breast milk on her own and it was resolved by the doctor. I see a lot of changes at the ward. I was here 15 years ago with my first child and it didn’t look like this. Am happy they have made it comfortable for us”.
According to Dr Kinsley Che Nsoh, NW Regional Delegate of Public Health the renovation is vital as the health indicators of 2019 shows that above 35 maternal and 100 neonatal deaths were recorded. It will go a long way to curb these deaths so mothers in the region are encouraged to deliver their babies here.
“This solves some of the problems of the ward but there is still a lot to be done. There is the need for new beds, incubators and other equipment. Hopefully the next renovation will be at the labour room so it can be as clean as the neonatal ward”. Says Dr Kinsley Che
Mother and child health falls under SDG 3, making it one of the axes of the intervention of the Ministry of Public Health.
Maikem Emmanuela Manzie