Published: 01-04-2015 10:27 | Updated: 01-12-2015 13:34

Improved care of newborns in Uganda

With relatively simple measures which reach the poorest families, life-saving traditions during pregnancy, delivery and the newborn period can be improved in Uganda, according to a randomized study which was conducted in collaboration with Karolinska Institutet and Makerere University in Uganda. The results have been reported in a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Global Health Action.

Child mortality rates in Uganda are declining. However, the improvements are slower in terms of deaths occurring among newborns and stillbirths. A large share of these deaths can be prevented.

In the Uganda Newborn Study, researchers investigated the effect of a care package which linked families, community health workers and health facilities in rural areas in Uganda. In half of the villages volunteers from the village were trained. They conducted two consultative home visits among pregnant women before delivery and three visits during the first week following delivery. Researchers found that behaviours which reduce mortality during the newborn period could be strengthened by this interaction. Breastfeeding practices, skin-to-skin care immediately after birth, delaying a baby’s first bath, and hygienic care of the baby’s umbilical cord stump were higher amongst the group of women receiving home visits compared to the control group.

The study, which was initiated by Harriet Wallberg, former Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet during her Uganda visit has contributed to building research capacity in the country. Till now it has resulted in two dissertations in collaboration between Karolinska Institutet and Makerere University. The study’s results and material now comprise the Uganda Ministry of Health’s guidelines in the area.

Stefan Peterson. Photo Ulf SiirbornStefan Peterson, who is associated with the Department of Public Health Sciences at Karolinska Institutet, Uppsala University and Makerere University, is one of the researchers in charge of the study:

“We are especially happy to have graduated two Ugandan PhDs from this study who are experts in newborn health research. Capacity development should be part of all studies and that is how we will build national cadres of researchers,” he says in an international press release from the journal.Peter Waiswa. Photo: Makerere University.

The authors of the articles include Mariam Claeson from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who was appointed as Honorary Doctor of Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in 2015, and Peter Waiswa, who is a researcher at Makerere University and Karolinska Institutet. The research was funded by the collaboration supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, between both universities as well as Save the Children through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its blog also discusses the study.

The journal Global Health Action is based in Umeå and the special issue Newborn health in Uganda contains nine scientific articles related to the Uganda Newborn Study, and has open access.

How to Bend the Curve on Newborn Mortality – Key Learnings from Uganda

Text: Karin Söderlund Leifler