To mark World Prematurity Day on 17th November, a National Newborn Health Conference was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, organised by the Directorate General of Health Services. Dr Subha Sri Balakrishnan, Senior Technical Officer from the Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health (CMNH) presented and participated in the event.
There were a number of sessions and talks throughout the conference, and the attendees discussed various aspects of newborn care and how to prevent deaths among newborn babies in Bangladesh. Deaths of newborn babies currently constitute approximately 60% of all child deaths in the country, and preventing these is therefore a national priority for the Government. One conference session focused on the Special Care Newborn Units (SCANUs), which the Government of Bangladesh established in District Hospitals and Medical Colleges, to provide specialised care for small and sick babies. Approximately 48 SCANUs have been established in the 64 districts of Bangladesh. The performance of SCANUs and their integration with other services, and lessons to inform scale-up were recently assessed by a team of evaluators at CMNH, including Dr Balakrishnan.
Dr Balakrishnan presented on the findings from this assessment in a session on Sick Newborn Management. Her presentation highlighted the leadership and commitment shown by Government of Bangladesh (with support from development partners like UNICEF) in establishing and upscaling SCANUs at district level, and ensuring the availability of trained human resources, supplies and equipment in these facilities. She also highlighted some of the challenges that SCANUs face, including a shortage of human resources, stock-out of essential medicines, frequent breakdown of equipment, poor quality of care in labour rooms in the same facilities, and lack of community-based follow up of babies that were discharged from SCANUs. The discussion that followed reflected on the challenges in the Bangladesh health systems on providing care for small and sick newborns and how these can be addressed, both at facility and community level.
Dr Balakrishnan reflected after the event:
“The session on Sick Newborn Management had presentations on different programmes of the Government of Bangladesh, right from the community level to the tertiary level. This helped the participants to look at newborn care in the country from a holistic perspective. It was thus a great opportunity to place our assessment of the SCANUs within the larger health systems context of Bangladesh. It was also interesting to note that there were similar challenges amongst various programmes even though each operated at different levels of the health system.”