Promoting kangaroo mother care in low-resource countries
This project is a 2020 recipient of grant funding from the Royal College’s new International Development, Aid and Collaboration (IDAC) program. This grant supports projects that improve health profession education and local capacity in low- and middle-income countries.
Problems associated with preterm birth are among the most frequent causes of newborn mortality. A group of Canadian and American universities is using Royal College IDAC funding to develop a new learning and implementation program that will help save newborn lives.
“We’re developing a simple and effective program for teaching the kangaroo mother care (KMC) method in low-resource settings,” said Douglas McMillan, MD, FRCPC, a career neonatologist who taught in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Dalhousie University. “KMC is not a new concept and has been promoted by many organizations; however, it has not caught on as well as it could in some of the settings that could benefit the most.”
A model recognized by the World Health Organization
With KMC, mothers (assisted by fathers and other family members) maintain skin-to-skin contact with their newborns around the clock, which creates many proven health benefits for babies and their families. KMC reduces morbidity and mortality in low birth weight infants and promotes breastfeeding, weight gain, better bonding between mothers and babies, and possibly allows earlier discharge home.
The World Health Organization recognizes KMC as a safe and effective alternative to conventional neonatal care, especially in low-resource settings.
Neonatologists from universities in Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton and St. Louis, Missouri, are working to develop a KMC education program where students not only learn well in the moment, but are also able to maintain and use the information they receive.
“We will test the new learning program in one African and one Asian setting through educational partnerships that we already have,” said Dr. McMillan. The team will evaluate the efficacy of the program using a framework that tests the program’s acceptability, the learning that takes place, use by learners of new skills and the impact on babies — although this project will not be large enough to demonstrate a decrease in newborn mortality.
Lessons that apply to all care settings
Although KMC’s main benefit in low- and middle-income countries is that it reduces infant mortality, its other benefits may also be of value in higher-income countries where mortality is already low.
“In this era of family engagement, KMC with skin-to-skin care may be valuable adjuncts to preterm baby care in Canada,” said Dr. McMillan. “Our experience in low- and middle-income countries may bring us full circle to a future project back home.”
Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, a number of project activities originally planned for earlier this year have been delayed. Some activities have since restarted, while others are waiting for an appropriate and safe time to resume.