Simple, no-cost method saving infants' lives in Ethiopia

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Feb. 6, 2020


Rose Hayes

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KMC is “at least as effective” as an ICU incubator in helping low-birth-weight babies to survive the first days of life.

Emory Ethiopia and Emory School of Nursing have partnered with stakeholders throughout Ethiopia to implement KMC across birth settings, according to a new study protocol published in BMJ Open. (Formerly known as “Kangaroo Mother Care,” this practice is now simply called KMC because anyone can perform it—not just new moms.)

What is KMC? It involves a parent or caregiver maintaining constant skin-to-skin contact with a newborn during the critical first days of life (typically by holding them close in a homemade fabric swaddle). It also calls for exclusive breastfeeding when possible. The ability of KMC to improve an infant’s odds of survival is backed by more than 35 years of research, and yet it is a little-known practice in many parts of the world.

These are just some of its benefits:

  • Creates a safe, temperature-controlled environment
  • Eases stress for both parent and baby
  • Encourages breastfeeding
  • Reduces the likelihood of severe bloodstream infections, called sepsis

Scientists from Emory Ethiopia and Emory School of Nursing have partnered with communities, hospitals, government orgs, and NGOs in Ethiopia—as well as India in a parallel project—to:

  • Design locally appropriate models for implementing this practice across birth settings (with a focus on healthcare facilities)
  • Identify barriers to KMC usage
  • Provide KMC to low-birth-weight babies (weighing less than 2,000 grams) born in Ethiopian and Indian healthcare facilities within studied areas

This nuanced approach ensures that practices like KMC are implemented in a way that is respectful of people’s cultural beliefs, is acceptable to families and communities, and may be sustainably incorporated into care at government hospitals. The research team, which is part of a larger, nationwide consortium, plans to increase the uptake of KMC usage from 5 to 80 percent in the Amhara region, the second most populous region in Ethiopia.

This project, led by Drs. John Cranmer and Abebe Gebremariam, continues the school’s long-standing work aimed at improving maternal-infant health outcomes in rural Ethiopia, which was started in 2010 by Dr. Lynn Sibley. It has been backed by several funders, such as the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Inquiries, including media, giving, and partnership questions, may be directed to Catherine Morrow