Breathing life back into babies

The odds are stacked heavily against a child in Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to pneumonia. The team at Center for Public health and Development has been pushing hard over the years to find ways to reduce the number of deaths due to pneumonia. The invitation to present Hewa Tele at the Pneumonia Innovations Summit is recognition of this effort.

The Pneumonia Innovations Team is a global network of more than 150 individuals representing organizations with a commitment to accelerate the development and adoption of innovative technologies with the greatest potential to reduce child deaths from pneumonia.

Dr Bernard Olayo, the founder of CPHD, will be addressing the gathering in New York for the event and is hoping to bring into focus on how much more needs to be done to reverse the numbers in Africa. According to the report Pushing the Pace, in 2013, a child died from pneumonia every 35 seconds. Pneumonia caused the death of an estimated 905,059 children in 2013, with most deaths concentrated among countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with Kenya being one of the high pneumonia mortality countries and also one of the countries which have the slowest to reduce the numbers.

Though pneumonia mortality in under-5 children has been reduced by more than 50% in the last 15 years, the numbers are still alarmingly high. Children are susceptible to pneumonia in various ways, and having interventions to prevent pneumonia is important. However, as the report says, even with the best prevention and risk reduction efforts, children can still get pneumonia. Having access to a health facility or health worker within a short travel time and then receiving prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential.

Two of CPHD’s initiatives in Kenya have been changing the way health facilities are prioritizing this issue. The CPAP program and access to oxygen program have in a short while managed to reduce the number of under-5 deaths. While the CPAP program equips and trains health workers in effectively applying this low-cost, low technology device on newborns and children under 5, Hewa Tele is an intervention which has been saving lives simply by ensuring facilities have oxygen, an essential drug which is rarely found in facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some facilities have been fortunate to have both interventions while the other facilities, which are in more resource-constrained settings, have hugely benefitted from the oxygen program.

“We never used to budget for oxygen. It was always on our list. Now we have it. Having oxygen is helping us expand our maternity services and get accreditation such as OBA (Output Based Approach).”

“When you look at how oxygen can save lives, when you hear babies cry—and that’s what we want to hear from babies—then oxygen is cheap,” says Natalie Odipo of the faith-based health facility Disciples of Mercy serving rural areas in Kisumu, Western Kenya. The facility started oxygen provision and budgeting for it when it heard about Hewa Tele and verified the legitimacy and capability of a local oxygen manufacturing unit.

Helmi Jonas Heath Center in a remote village in Siaya county in Kenya has witnessed drastic changes in the mortality rates of critically ill patients. “We had to refer all such cases to Siaya County Hospital which is one hour away along bad roads,” says Nurse Lillian. “We used to lose 30-40% of the patients on the way. Now, with oxygen at our facility we don’t need to refer many patients at all, and when we do we have oxygen in our ambulance.”

The patient footfall at the facility has also shot up by 50% with the spread of the news that Helmi Jonas now has oxygen facility.

When the First Lady of Kenya, HE Mrs Margaret Kenyatta, launched the first Hewa Tele plant at Siaya in 2014, she had said: “This plant demonstrates what we can achieve with the right partnerships between the government and the private sector. The plant is close to my heart.” 

Her words haven’t been proved wrong with the partnership still working strong one year down the line. How has the partnership been pathbreaking? “We are able to do critical use of oxygen in pediatric care. We can treat and improve treatment of a much larger set of pathologies, reduce number of referrals, increased the credibility of our facility,” says Penina Onyango, head nurse of the Siaya County Hospital, which hosts the plant. The hospital administrators are open to extending the partnership to facilitate trainings in the future to improve the use of oxygen.

Hewa Tele Communications Team