Kenya’s high child death rate of 73 per 1,000 children could be greatly reduced if the country were to employ simple and practical solutions to reduce preterm births and complications, which are the leading cause of death among newborns.

A review of data from the Ministry of Health, UN agencies and international organisations working on maternal and child health reveal that one out of eight babies in Kenya  is born premature. These statistics place the country among 15 countries that account for two thirds of all preterm births. One out of four premature babies die from complications of preterm birth.  More than previously acknowledged, these numbers have a big impact on the country’s child death rate.
Newborn babies face many deadly challenges as their bodies are not fully developed before birth but a growing body of evidence show that with simple low-cost interventions most premature babies can be saved.

To begin with, family planning, preventive malaria treatment in pregnant women and better nutrition during pregnancy would lower the risk of preterm births.

Beyond these measures, Kenya can still employ simple methods such as Kangaroo care – a method of caring for premature babies, skin-to-skin, with an adult – to avert the deaths of babies born too soon.   A study of Kangaroo care in Ethiopia and 14 other developing countries found that this form of care halved deaths among stable premature babies.  But despite an acute shortage of incubators in public hospitals in Kenya fewer than half of provincial and national hospitals offer Kangaroo care, which can replace or complement care in incubators.

In addition to using Kangaroo care to make a big difference in preterm births, Kenya can engage  better trained healthcare workers, promote  the breastfeeding of  babies within one  hour of birth and ensure prompt treatment of infections, particularly sepsis blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis.

Born too soon

Kenya’s preterm birth rate is higher than the global average.

A difficult start

Newborn babies face many deadly challenges as their bodies are not fully developed before birth.

Preterm deaths in Kenya

Over the last two decades there has been no real progress in reducing deaths among newborns.

Hospital is best

Premature babies born at home are more likely to die than those born in health facilities.

For the want of incubators

Public hospitals in Kenya have an acute shortage of incubators.

Life and death decisions

Sharing incubators puts newborns at risk of contracting deadly diseases.

Kangaroo care in Kenya

Kangaroo care is available in most Kenyan hospitals.

Incubators vs. Kangaroo

Both incubators and kangaroo care have advantages and disadvantages.

Low-cost and life-saving treatment

With simple low cost interventions most premature babies can be unaffected by their early arrival.

Breastfeeding preterm babies

Breastfeeding premature babies immediately after birth can reduce risk of death.

Preterm care and training

Midwives play a critical role in reducing preterm birth complications and deaths.

Mapping preterm deaths

Babies born in Africa are 12 times more likely to die from complications of preterm births compared...