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With the Newly Established Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU)… 12, 300 Children Survive Neonatal Complications

A Health care worker inside the Special Care Baby Units.  Photo credit: UNICEF Sierra Leone

The Special Care Baby Units (SCBU) in government hospitals are helping save the lives of children born with neonatal complications. The newly established units have saved more than 12, 300 sick new-borns admitted in the facilities, around 80 per cent survival rate.

The project is being implemented with financial support from the Government of China with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) providing technical support.

The first of the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) has been unveiled at the Kailahun District Government Hospital.  This state-of-the-art unit is designed to provide expert care for sick new-borns (from birth up to 28 days’ old), most of whom require specialised equipment to save their lives. Established under the program “China-Africa collaboration, the project is to accelerate maternal, new-born and child health in the country. The SCBU at Kailahun, together with another SCBU to be established at Sierra Leone Chinese Friendship Hospital (Jui Hospital), will contribute to improving access to the quality of neonatal care services in the country. This facility will help to reduce neonatal deaths, which currently stands at 31 per 1, 000 live births, according to the 2019 National Demographic and Health Survey.  It is also set to strengthen the network of the four existing regional SCBUs.

Speaking on the project, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Prof. Alpha T Wurie said: “The Ministry of Health and Sanitation under my leadership has prioritized improving the quality and range of health services for women and children, especially during times of health emergencies like Covid-19. With the establishment of these SCBUs, where we ensure availability of trained and competent staff, state-of-the-art medical equipment and medicines, we hope to bring smiles and joy to families who may otherwise have lost their babies who were born too early (premature) or too small.”

The establishment of the SCBU at Kailahun, which started in April 2020, has included the provision of lifesaving equipment, drugs and commodities such as incubators, oxygen concentrators, radiant warmers, phototherapy machines, monitors, pulse oximeters, bilirubin meter, infusion and syringe pumps, hemoglobinometer, glucometer to name few of them. An International paediatrician has been recruited to head the SCBU at Kailahun and to provide continuous on the job training for service providers at the facility. Also, a Community Health Officer (CHO) and two nurses assigned to work at the SCBU, have received a two-month on the job training at Kenema Hospital and Ola During Children’s Hospital in Freetown, where the SCBUs are already well functioning. 

H.E. Hu Zhangliang, Ambassador of China to Sierra Leone also noted: “The Special Care Baby Units will go a long way in enhancing the quality of baby care services in this country and help reduce neonatal deaths. Together with the strengthening of the network of four existing regional SCBUs, this intervention will greatly improve the well-being of mothers and newborns throughout the country.”

UNICEF Representative, Dr Suleiman Braimoh informed that the investments which have been made to Kailahun Hospital at this critical time are commendable strides to closing the current gaps in the provision of a better quality of health care for every new-born in the country. He said since 2017, UNICEF has been supporting the operationalization of SCBUs as a key strategy to improve neonatal mortality rates across this country.  This, according to him, is in line with the Government’s “Every Newborn Action Plan” launched in 2018.

With Kailahun included, the Special Care Baby Units are being set up in nine hospitals across eight other districts. UNICEF has plans to support the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to reach a target of establishing 14 SCBUs in 14 Regional/district hospitals by March 2021.

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