Carton-boxes, an innovative way that is saving the life of Kenyan babies

By Gitonga Njeru

Pyllis Kantai aged 33 is a mother of one. She has a twenty seven day baby girl. She is one of the mothers who has benefited from an innovative way of clothing her child after delivering in hospital. Many Kenyan hospitals are now offering baby carton-made beds for free.

In addition, the carton boxes which are used as a bed by the newborn babies come with baby sheets, a blanket, infant caps, and bulletins that contain information on immunization and breastfeeding.

“This is my first child and I will go back to give birth at the same hospital when I get pregnant again. I cannot afford all the pleasures that come with a baby unfortunately.

“My husband hardly earns from selling vegetables just $2 a day. I am not earning any income. It is motivating and no wonder many expectant mothers crowd this facility”, said the jovial mother of one who delivered at catholic owned Neema Uhai Hospital in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Nurses and doctors at the facility say that pneumonia deaths and other neonatal lung related diseases have reduced by more than 70% as a result of the baby boxes.

According to Anne Waiganjo, a senior nurse at Uhai Hospital, in 2015, the hospital recorded 21 neonatal deaths that could otherwise been averted. Last year, the hospital recorded just three deaths.

“We do give these boxes for free at no charge to the mothers. They come with a blanket and sheets. Plus information on immunization until the age of five years. They also contain information on breastfeeding”, says Waiganjo.

“Just last month alone, we provided over   402 boxes to women who could not afford proper care for their infants. The numbers of people coming to seek services in this hospital keep increasing as a result”, she added.

While there is no reliable data on the number of boxes available, they are spread countrywide. They are more common in catholic operated hospitals. But they are also common in many rural government facilities as well.

Many health professionals say the boxes help reduce the infant disease burden. With high Neonatal and Perinatal deaths in Kenya and also in Africa high, an innovative way of putting them on carton boxes to sleep with warm beddings in poor households is helping reduce the burden.

According to Ronald Njoroge who recently founded Wellness Care Center, many   women cannot afford adequate bed facilities or live in small single roomed houses that are unhygienic and so on that the infant can easily catch life threatening diseases.

“I will soon be launching a website for my organization. The boxes even help the mothers sleep comfortably at their homes where they do not have to share a bed with their baby. This is because the beds are small and they can easily sleep on top of their babies, suffocating them to death”, says Njoroge, whose organization specializes in infant care.

Now hospitals are encouraging new mothers to carry their babies or put them to sleep with carton like boxes (bedlike), to prevent many diseases like pneumonia which kills over 102 Neonatal babies in Kenya each year according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

There are 39/100,000 neonatal deaths in every live births in Kenya each year according to the World Health Organization (WHO). About 23% of Kenyan perinatal babies are born underweight, below WHO recommended weight of 2.5 kilograms.

“But for sure, don’t expect the carton boxes to give you 100% satisfaction if you are pregnant and do not regularly attend prenatal and antenatal clinics”, said Njoroge whose organization also supplies the boxes at subsidized costs to hospitals.

The Kenyan government recently initiated free maternal services at all government owned hospitals. The carton boxes are not available in a few of those facilities and for free.

This innovative way was first used in Finland in the 1930s when the country was then considered poor. The boxes are common in South Asia and poor regions in the United States where they are also exported by companies.

They work just like beds and the couples for example, do not have to share small beds with babies where in Kenya, there are over 22 cases per year where someone has accidentally slept on top of the baby and the babies have died as a result according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, a government agency.

For instance, in Uzima Hospital in Nairobi, a Catholic operated hospital, about four neonatal deaths have been averted each week as hospital staff advice mothers to embrace the innovation.

According to Dr. Zachary Mwangi, Director of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, pneumonia kills children less than five years than any other disease.

“In Kenya, the disease kills over 20,000 children. But globally WHO estimates that it kills more than 920,136 children under five each year. This is more than any other disease that affects young children.

“Simple common sense methods such as widely distributing these carton boxes can help. You do not need to be trained medical personnel. These needs little investments”, said the expert who heads East Africa’s largest statistic research company.

Kenya’s maternal mortality still remains high. There are 488 deaths out of every 100,000 li’ve births. Although this is below that of sub Saharan Africa figures of 640 deaths according to the WHO.

Kenya’s health Cabinet Secretary (Minister), Cleophas Mailu, said that by the end of the year neonatal death are expected to reduce.

“As a government we encourage any initiative that saves lives. With the free maternal healthcare, we do expect Perinatal deaths to reduce to 18 out of every 100,000 live births by next year”, said the Minister at a WHO conference in Nairobi.

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