Do you remember the last time you bought a pound of sugar at the store? Not terribly big or bulky or heavy, just a pound of sugar. So imagine that being the same weight as your newborn child who was born too early.
The recently released report, Born Too Soon, highlights the unprecedented 15 million preterm births around the world each year. When a baby is born early and weighs about the same as a pound of sugar, particularly in low-income settings, she or he has a very slim chance of survival unless there is knowledge of and access to life-saving interventions.
These interventions can be simple and cost-effective, and need not involve elaborate technology in neonatal intensive care units.
At the government hospital in Shivgarh, India where Sakshi was born too early, the doctor told her parents that she would have to be kept in an incubator for a month at a cost of more than $50 a day, well beyond their means. So instead, they took Sakshi home with little more than hope that she would survive.
As soon as the family arrived home, a frontline health worker from the Saksham Shivgarh project arrived for the first postnatal care visit. Understanding the gravity of the situation, he and his supervisors worked through the night to formulate a strategy for Sakshi. The strategy involved simple interventions that had minimal costs and were available in the community.
What were these life-saving interventions?
The family delayed bathing Sakshi for the first week and kept her warm and dry. She was fed only breast milk, extracted from her mother and fed manually from a clean spoon as she could not suckle. Family members took turns to provide skin-to-skin care around the clock for the first two months of life to make sure Sakshi was warm and swaddled.
Saskshi was born in Shivgarh, India where her parents were told she would have to be kept in an incubator for a month, at a cost of more than $50 a day.
Everyone followed good hygiene practices, regularly washing their hands with soap so as to minimize Sakshi’s exposure to bacteria and risk of infection. For the first couple of months, family members and frontline health workers monitored her temperature constantly to avoid hypothermia, and tracked her growth each day to see how she was responding.
Five years later, a lively, energetic Sakshi is a living testament to the benefits of simple interventions. And her name, which means “proof,” verifies the power of the Saksham project. The translation of Saksham? Empowered. We think that is quite appropriate.
This story is important for so many reasons, the principal one being the survival of a preterm baby who otherwise would have died. The events that took place encapsulate everything we strive for in family health—simple interventions that have minimal costs so as to be available to impoverished areas; frontline health workers with the skills and knowledge of newborn care working closely with a family; family members that adopt new behaviors to save their child’s life. It also gives us a reminder of the reality of many families, which we can forget when sitting many miles away.
The Born Too Soon report gives us the urgency to prevent preterm birth and to care for those who are born too early. But Sakshi’s story gives us the hope that our efforts will matter.