Saving Newborns in DRC: Supporting Safer Deliveries through "Helping Babies Breathe"

Saving Newborns in DRC: Supporting Safer Deliveries through "Helping Babies Breathe"

Immaculée, seated, holding her twin boys. Thanks to the intervention of the center’s midwife, at left, both of these babies are now in good health. {Photo credit: IRC.}Photo credit: IRC.

Thirteen newborns die every hour in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). So on July 23, when 25-year old Immaculée went into labor with twins at the Monvu Reference Health Center in the Idjwi Health Zone, and her first twin was born without signs of life, the chances of survival were not in his favor.

The odds are stacked against newborns in the DRC: neonatal mortality hovers around 97 deaths for every 1,000 live births, and has done so for years, explaining the acute need for intervention in this area.

Recognizing this need, the USAID-funded DRC-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP), in conjunction with the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Ministry of Public Health, organized a “Helping Babies Breathe” training in Kinshasa in April 2012, to build the capacity of health providers who oversee labor and delivery.

Helping Babies Breathe is an evidence-based neonatal resuscitation approach designed for resource-limited areas, which teaches health workers how to handle newborns’ breathing in their first minute of life, a critical period known as the “Golden Minute.”

Present at this training was the head of the Monvu Reference Health Center Maternity Ward. Three months later, she knew exactly what to do when Immaculée went into labor and suffered the complication of a prolapsed cord, so that the first twin arrived not breathing on his own.

The midwife revived the baby using the techniques taught at the Helping Babies Breathe training, which included assisted ventilation with a bag and mask. After five minutes, little Dieudonné took his first breath and let out a low cry. The midwife then recommended the baby be warmed using the Kangaroo Care method, resting skin-to-skin on his mother’s chest, another practice used to improve newborn survival, which she had also learned through training supported by DRC-IHP.

Today, Dieudonné is healthy. Immaculée, who lost a child in the same maternity facility before the midwife was trained in Helping Babies Breathe, is grateful to now have two healthy sons. And six months after the HBB training, the midwife has resuscitated a total of 19 babies, increasing the odds for all babies born in this Sud Kivu facility.

Led by Management Sciences for Health with partners the International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, DRC-IHP is working to improve the basic health conditions of the Congolese people in 80 health zones in four provinces.

Dr. Mireille Meta is a health technical specialist with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) based in Bukavu, DRC. Marianne Stone is a grants manager with the IRC, based in Kinshasa.