A new measurement system for babies is improving neonatal care and making home births safer in Uganda

As a result of an 18-month-long study conducted in Uganda’s Makerere University School of Public Health in Iganga district, a foot measurement system is now being used to help in saving the lives of low birth weight (LBW) and premature babies born in Ugandan homes without medical supervision. Parents in the poor areas of Uganda can now easily use the foot measurement to determine if their baby needs extra medical care after birth or not.

Extra medical care depends on if a baby falls within any of the three risk groupings which are LBW (baby weighs less than 2.5 kilograms), premature (baby is less than 37 weeks old), and very low birth weight (baby weighs less than 1.5 kilograms). The foot measurement has proven to be an efficient means of measuring premature babies deemed too ill for other measurement methods following a study in Manchester, United Kingdom in 1979.

The measuring system is a card which was designed by Village Health Teams (VHTs) in the Iganga district and was used in home visits to check whether a newborn baby had a normal foot or a short foot, thereby deducing if the baby was at a health risk. On the card, two pictures of babies’ feet sizes were shown and marked, with 7.6 centimetres and above qualifying as normal and below 7.6 centimetres qualifying as short.

These home visits helped the VHTs to identify 280 high-risk babies who were admitted to the special care unit of Iganga Hospital and presently have very good chances of survival, according to the principal investigator for the high-risk newborn study, Dr. Gertrude Namazzi. Dr. Namazzi further advices that babies be taken to the hospital immediately it I discovered that their feet are smaller than 7.6 centimetres, using the foot measurement.

In Uganda, one in 30 babies born prematurely will not make it past four weeks based on their susceptibility to health complications ranging from having LBW to suffering from respiratory issues amongst others. Uganda is the 28th country in the world with the highest number of premature deaths, as the country loses 30,000 babies to the condition every year. Premature births are also responsible for 25 percent of neonatal deaths in Uganda.

The introduction of the easy-to-use foot measurement appears set to significantly help Uganda achieve one of its 2030 sustainable development goals, which is to end preventable deaths in newborns and children under the age of five.

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