MWENDE: A package to fight infant mortality

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By YVONNE MWENDE
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Babies in Finland sleep in cardboard boxes.

A practice that dates back to the 1930s, the Nordic country has largely reaped the benefits of baby cardboard boxes by recording the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.

Prior to this practice, the Finnish infant mortality was 65 deaths per 1,000 live births, which had drastically reduced to two deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2015.

As we mark the International Children’s Day, we are reminded of the new global development agenda that is the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3, which seeks to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under the age of five.

Globally, many governments are making deliberate efforts to reduce the neonatal mortality to at least 12 per 1,000 live births and the under-five years’ mortality to as low as 25 per 1,000 by 2030.

According to the World Bank, Kenya’s infant mortality index was at 36 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2015.

Although this is quite a reduction from the previous years, much more needs to be done to save the lives of these babies.

The Finnish tradition of putting babies to sleep in cardboard boxes may not be the only reason for the decline in infant mortality in that country.

However, with the evident statistics we cannot deny that it is a key contributing factor to this progressive development.

The cardboard boxes given to mothers come with a maternity package that includes baby clothes, mattress, bed sheets, duvet cover and diapers, among other essential items, seeks to provide mothers with what they need to care for their babies and also give every child an equal opportunity at life.

The package, given by the Finnish Government, was also not only pivotal in providing for the needs of the newborns, but the programme has changed the country’s infant care.

For a mother to get the maternity box, she had to visit a doctor or attend a pre-natal clinic, thus encouraging the provision of professional medical care for the expectant mothers.

In Kenya, an initiative similar to the one in Finland has been adopted in an effort to help reduce infant mortality in the country.

Simply known as the Toto Care Box Africa Trust, it was set up some time last year as a non-profit organisation aimed at protecting, preserving and promoting the wellbeing of newborn babies in their first 28 days of life.

The founder, Ms Lucy Wambui Kaigutha, recognised the need to contribute to the reduction of infant mortality, which remains a major health challenge in the country.

Having worked as a public health researcher collecting data in integrated management of childhood illnesses, Ms Kaigutha stumbled on an online article titled, ‘Why Finnish Babies Sleep In Cardboard Boxes’.

The article motivated her to establish the Toto Care Box Africa Trust. Her organisation works in the rural and semi-urban settlements where infant mortality is relatively high.

In Mukuru Kayaba slums in Nairobi’s Industrial Area and Dandora, where Toto Care has distributed 67 cardboard boxes, a beneficiary, who gave her name simply as Esther, said she used to wrap her baby in a sheet and place the child outside on a gunny bag to get some sunshine.

The baby would be exposed to bites by mosquitoes, other insects and all sorts of vermin in the slum dwellings.

Today, her baby is protected as he soaks in Vitamin D from the sun every morning.

Most mothers in the slums of Nairobi and other towns cannot afford the essentials needed to care for their babies.

The box is distributed for free in the slums but for those who can afford, they charge Sh3,000. It costs Sh3,800 for corporates.

The organisation raises funds through Crowdfunding from the M-Changa platform.

They create awareness through churches and their website.

The Toto Care Box includes a waterproof mattress, bed sheets, blanket, baby clothes, diapers, mosquito net, and 100gm cotton wool for post-partum bleeding.

Also included are condoms, a DTS-Z kit (ORS Zinc Combo) to deal with diarrhoea and dehydration, among other items that enable the new mother to take proper care of the baby.

During the four antenatal care clinic visits, the mother is trained on how to use the cardboard box and its contents. She also receives information on proper breastfeeding, nutrition, health and hygiene.

To reduce infant mortality, the government should support such initiatives to ensure they have an equal chance to life.

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