x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rural health workers get neonatal training

Medical staff at small clinics and rural hospitals are being trained to cope more ably with sick newborn babies.

ABU DHABI // Medical staff at small clinics and rural hospitals are being trained to cope more ably with sick newborn babies as health authorities aim to improve survival rates after birth. Al Mafraq Hospital has launched the Stable programme to educate both its own staff and those from surrounding clinics and hospitals, which are more rural and less well equipped.

The programme aims to teach doctors and nurses about the importance of the medical care administered to newborn babies, especially in centres without neonatal intensive care units (NICU). It is the first hospital in the Gulf region to introduce the Stable programme. According to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation, the rate of neonatal mortality in 2004 was four per 1,000 live births. This is equal to the rate in the US and compares with three per 1,000 in the UK and 11 per 1,000 in Saudi Arabia.

Gail Smith, director of nursing at Al Mafraq, said the hospital had a large catchment area for newborn babies and often other clinics and hospitals did not know how to treat the babies' conditions. "The survival of these critically ill newborns usually depends on how they receive the primary care and the means of transport to hospital," she said. "There are things which nurses and physicians can learn which will greatly improve the baby's health and chances of survival."

The Stable programme focuses on sugar levels, temperature, breathing, blood pressure, laboratory work and emotional support for the child's family. Four members of staff from Al Mafraq visited the US and Canada to learn about the programme, which originated in North America. "It is essential that the baby is stabilised as quickly as possible," Ms Smith said. "This can be by administering oxygen or glucose, or making sure their temperature is good, which is very important.

"Newborn babies are vulnerable to quite a few things, which is why we think this programme is so important." The hospital has 14 specialist beds in the NICU, which usually operates at full capacity, said Ms Smith. The hospital receives children from as far afield as the UAE's border with Saudi Arabia and there are periods when there are as many as 17 or 18 newborns in the unit. The programme has already proved popular and the hospital now plans to run two programmes every month. The courses are conducted by an expert in neonatal nursing and are designed for paediatricians, nurses and midwives involved in the care of newborns.

"Many doctors and nurses have limited experience in this field, but joining the programme will make them highly skilled in caring for critically ill newborn babies," said Dr Taiseer Atrak, the chief of NICU. A considerable number of sick babies who were referred to other hospitals would have avoided complications if the care providers concerned had been trained to prepare the babies properly before they were moved, said Dr Atrak.

He also said that paying more attention to the early life of newborns could mean they would face far fewer physical and mental problems later in life. Ralph Beaty, CEO of Al Mafraq, said the hospital was "proud to start such an important campaign" in the UAE and the Middle East. @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae