A high rate of infant deaths is being blamed on a lack of skilled neonatologists in most referral, provincial, district and health centres in the country.
Currently, out of 320,000 babies born annually, between 37,000 and 40,000 are premature and account for more than a quarter of infant deaths, according to the Ministry of Health Division of Maternal Child and Community Health.
A recent Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey shows that neonatal and post neonatal mortality rates currently stand at 20 deaths out of 1,000 newborns and 60 per cent of children die before the age of one.
Another report by the World Health Organisation shows that globally 7,300 babies are stillborn. An estimated 15 million babies are born premature every year.
The report adds that approximately one million children die each year globally due to complications of preterm births.
Many survivors face learning disabilities, visual and hearing problems.
“The performance is still poor when it comes to interventions to prevent stillbirths, but efforts are underway to have skilled neonatologists to provide quality services,” said Felix Sayinzoga Maternal Child and Community Health Division manager at the Ministry of Health.
“There is also a need to educate mothers about practises like kangaroo mother care skin-to-skin contact between mother or father and the baby which helps fight off infections in preterm babies,” said Dr Sayinzoga, adding that kangaroo mother care has been shown to decrease mortality and morbidity in preterm babies and those with low birth weights by providing protection from infection, regulating their temperature, breathing, and brain activity, and encouraging mother-baby bonding.
Muhonzire Sylvia, who gave birth to a child weighing 700 grammes told Rwanda Today that she almost lost her child because the hospital did not have any neonatologists or equipment to help her deliver her preterm baby.
She went to Kibungo referral hospital and the doctors told her that they didn’t have the capacity to handle her case.
She was transferred to King Faisal Hospital.
Jean Baptiste Nkuranga, neonatolo-gist and president of the Rwanda Paediatrics Association said the common causes of preterm births in the country include multiple pregnancies, an unbalanced diet, smoking while pregnant, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Currently, out of 47 referral and district hospitals only King Faisal, Rwinkwanvu, Kirehe and Butaro are equipped with neonatal intensive care units.
Fausto Uwingabire, president of Rwanda Association of Neonatal Nurses, said there are 26 neonatal nurses in the country and 16 of them have just graduated and have no practical skills.