Nigeria reportedly has only about 23Neo-natal Intensive Care Centres offering respiratory support for newborns. In this report, HENRY TYOHEMBA writes that increasing numbers of such centres will help in fighting infant mortality rates.
A recent report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has shown that more than 400,000 babies die every year in Nigeria
To this end, health experts in the country have stressed that boosting the number of Neonatal Intensive Care Units in Nigeria will go a long way in overcoming the challenges.
Currently, it has been reported that Nigeria with an estimated population of over 200 million people and an estimated seven million live births annually has only twenty-three centres both in public and private facilities to offer respiratory support for newborns.
UNICEF report further stressed that out of 2. 5 million babies that are born dead globally each year, more than 400,000 stillborn deaths take place in Nigeria. This is more than one in ten of all babies
The infant mortality rate for Nigeria in 2019, estimated by the United Nations was 60.662 deaths per 1000 live births, a 2.38 per cent decline from 2018.
This estimate to many is still a far cry from the actual infant mortality rate, as reporting and accurate data collection are severely undermined in Nigerian society.
However, even at that Nigeria still ranks higher than countries like Sudan, Ghana, India, Bangladeshi and host of many other nations even with poorer economies.
Premature birth and complications of premature birth remain the highest cause of mortality and morbidity among infants in the first 28 days of life, accounting for 31 per cent of neonatal mortality rate.
There are sub-categories of preterm birth, based on gestational age: These include extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks), very preterm (28 to 32 weeks), moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks).
And each class or category has problems that are unique and need special medical intervention to provide them a chance to survive.
That is where the role of neonatal intensive care or special baby care units comes in. Neonatal care in Nigeria is still developing and most centres provide basic neonatal care services.
In general, statistics stated that Nigeria, with a stillbirth rate of 41.7 per 1,000 births, accounts for one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the African continent. Stillbirth rates remain nearly 10 times higher in low – income countries than high – income countries, according to experts.
It is pertinent to note that these deaths are a tragedy, especially because the vast majority is preventable.
It is to this end that some health experts in the country have jointly set up a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to reduce the high mortality rates in the country.
A Paediatric consultant at Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi and the founder of First Fertility and Children Hospital, Makurdi, Dr. Simon – Peter Gom, who recently established the care unit said the motive behind is to overcome the infant mortality while stressing the need for more centers in the country.
According to him, “The total number of neonatal ventilators available in the newborn units evaluated was 38, located in 23 of the 54 units. The private units have7 (18.4 per cent) while the public units have 31(81.6 per cent) of the neonatal ventilators. State capitals were the location of 14/22 (63.6 per cent) and 24/38 (63.2 per cent) of the ventilators.
“They were most commonly available in the South-West and South-South 11(28.9 per cent) and least available in the North-East 2 (5.2 per cent)3. From the above study, it shows that the highest level of neonatal care in Nigeria is the level 3 neonatal intensive care in very few public tertiary hospitals and a few attempts at the services in private hospitals.
“The above statistics paint a gloomy picture and not a promised future for Nigerian babies especially, those who may have the misfortune being born prematurely or have suffered some intrapartum conditions like, meconium aspiration syndrome, perinatal asphyxia and other conditions which they may need help to survive.
“It also explains the high infant mortality rate in our country, Nigeria. It is unacceptable and grossly inadequate that a country with an estimated population of over 200 million people and an estimated 7 million live births annually has only 23 centres both in public and private facilities to offer respiratory support for newborns.
“It is based on this premise that we started a neonatal intensive unit, first of its kind within the Benue valley covering four states, Benue, Nasarawa, Kogi and Taraba states, to offer level three neonatal intensive care, as a private facility we saw the need for this services.
“Neonatal intensive care is capital intensive because the country poor infrastructure with a very high foreign exchange rate complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not an easy task to accomplish with support from the government or non-governmental organizations that are willing or committed to helping bring down the high infant mortality rate in the country.