Medical Teams International saves 546 babies by constructing the first and only NICU in Rwamwanja refugee settlement

Natukunda being supported by the midwife to breatfeed her baby.

Natukunda being supported by the midwife to breatfeed her baby (PHOTO/Courtesy).

Located in Kamwenge District, Southwestern Uganda, Rwamwanja refugee settlement is home to over 83,000 refugees from mainly the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR). With only one health center providing in-patient services, health services within the settlement are often strained and inadequate.

Naturinda Sylvia, is one of the Medical Teams’ enrolled midwives at Rwamwanja Health Centre III, the only health center with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) within the settlement. Naturinda was the first midwife to work in the NICU when it was commissioned in October 2021 and she still works here to date.

Before then, all the babies that were born prematurely and those that required to be admitted in the Intensive care unit would have to be referred to Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital and this took at least one and a half hours to get to using an ambulance.

In 2020, Medical Teams with support from UNHCR embarked on construction of a NICU at Rwamwanja HC III. With a capacity of six incubators (neonatal life support machine), the NICU has in one year so far supported 575 babies, an average of 47 babies admitted per month.

This has greatly improved health service delivery within Rwamwanja refugee Settlement and hosting communities as explained below by Naturinda.

“The NICU has really improved timely access to critical care services to sick newborns because before this, the babies would initially be referred here from other health centers, and we would again refer them to Fort Portal since we also couldn’t manage. Only a few of the babies would make it because the journey is very long and the roads are bumpy, most babies would die in transit.”

“But now we can support babies by moving them right from the labor suit to the NICU. Some of them need oxygen while others need warmth and we have all the machines to provide the immediate care that is needed for them to survive,” she adds.

While visiting the NICU, we ran into 22-year-old Natukunda Immaculate who said she had come to feed her twins. From our interaction with her, Natukunda says she gave birth to the first child from home and walked to hospital for medical treatment.

Upon arrival, she was informed that her baby was a pre-mature and that she still had a second child that she needed to deliver.
“I delivered my twins at only 8months of pregnancy. I didn’t know I was having twins and by the time the second baby was delivered, he was already very tired. We were referred to this Rwamwanja HCIII and I was told both my babies needed oxygen and warmth,” Natukunda narrates.

When she arrived at the health facility, Natukunda’s twins were both placed in incubators for warmth, and they started receiving IV fluids. She was also given psychosocial support and given knowledge on how to feed her babies while in the NICU.

“The babies have now been in the NICU for three weeks and they’ve greatly improved. I’m very happy because the nurses here are supporting my babies well. If I hadn’t found these free services here, I don’t know what was going to happen to my twins,” she adds.

Despite the daily challenges she faces, Naturinda is motivated by the joy she feels each time she discharges a healthy baby.

“I’m very happy when a baby that was admitted with a weight under 1Kg is managed well until he/she is discharged. We continue following up the baby and with time you realize the baby is now 4Kgs, I feel so happy when I see a child progressing and growing up healthy,” says Naturinda.

From Naturinda’s perspective, there’s still need to establish at least one more NICU within one of the other health centers that are far away in order to minimize the distances travelled and loss of babies lives.

Naturinda says: “The distances between here and other health centers is long, and some babies still arrive here when they’re exhausted. The space we have in this NICU is usually not enough to accommodate all the babies, sometimes we must put three babies in one incubator to ensure they all survive.”

Access to Neonatal care services still remain inadequate in other settlements with high deaths by mid-year 2022.

Medical Teams appreciates the support of it partners “who trust us with funds to deliver lifesaving services across the globe. We appeal for more support now more than ever to continue breaking barriers to health and restoring wholeness in a hurting a World.”

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