Ethiopia has one of the world’s poorest neonatal mortality rates. As a british paediatrician working for one year the main aim was to improve neonatal care in a referral hospital’s neonatal unit. An initial project, looking at all admissions to the unit over the month of October 2012, revealed the death rate within the unit was 21% of all admissions. Of the 55 admissions only 43 (75%) had a temperature recorded at admission. 29 (67%) of these were hypothermic, and of these 29 initially hypothermic babies, 19 (65%) remained hypothermic or did not have another temperature documented during their stay. Only 33 (56%) had a heart rate and respiratory rate recorded on admission and only 11 (19%) had any further vital signs recorded during their stay. 19 of the admitted infants had a diagnosis of low birth weight and 10 (53%) of these either died or left against medical advice.
With this information regular basic neonatal care teaching sessions for doctors and nursing staff were initiated. Vital signs charts were introduced and unit specific protocols were written. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) was trialled and found to be effective and CPAP training was given to all nurses and doctors on the unit. A room was sourced to be dedicated to Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). The nurses were taken to a very effective neonatal unit as an ‘experience sharing’ trip to help with motivation and grant was also obtained for basic equipment.
After 6 months the project was repeated for all the admissions during February 2013. The death rate had progressively fallen and was 10% in February. 54 patients (98%) had a temperature taken on admission and of these, 27 (49%) were hypothermic. 25 (93%) of these hypothermic infants had subsequent temperatures documented which were normal. 54 (98%) had heart rate and respiratory rate recorded on admission and 50 (90%) had them recorded at least daily during their stay. Of the 22 babies with low birth weight (40%), only 4 (18%) died/left against medical advice. 4 received CPAP and 6 were treated with KMC.