Celebrating Birthdays:
Newborn Babies and AMOS’ 10th Anniversary

By Natalie Walter

AMOS Health & Hope Communications Coordinator

When a baby is born, we celebrate! This joyous occasion marks the beginning of something new and beautiful, and is a day that will be celebrated every year to come. Birthdays give us a moment to remember with joy when loved ones began their lives, and reflect on all the ways they have grown since. And, we use birthdays as a moment to look forward and share our dreams for the year to come! AMOS recognizes the importance of celebrating each and every baby’s new life on the day they are born by giving them the best care and attention possible, and we celebrate thousands of birthdays each year through the care and attention we give to newborns.

We’re also celebrating another very special sort of birthday this year: 2017 is the year AMOS turns 10 years old as an organization, and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the ministry that started it all! Each year, we strengthen old relationships and innovate alongside new partners, always walking hand in hand with Nicaraguan communities, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA), and the churches, foundations, and individuals who have believed in and supported this work over the years. On the basis of our belief in health for all, AMOS in its most recent years has begun interventions with the health centers in the department of Chontales and with volunteer mothers in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (La RACCS) to care for babies’ health, starting from their very first hours of life.

AMOS and our partners – MINSA, LDS Charities, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Nicaragua, León – started the implementation of the Essential Care for Every Baby (ECEB) and Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) curriculums in 2015. These interventions, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, aim to improve newborn care and reduce neonatal mortality in low-resource settings. The ECEB and HBB training materials were adapted to the local culture, context, and we blended them with already existing MINSA protocols. We then work to train the next generation of doctors and MINSA health professionals in the curriculum to ensure that babies have more birthdays to celebrate. Thanks to consistent follow up, supervision, and accompaniment of the practitioners, the intervention has had great success! With the implementation of these programs, we have seen an increase in skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding within the first hour of life – things crucial to a baby’s health!

Before the intervention, many of the health centers did not have all the necessary tools or specialized training to keep regular records of skin-to-skin contact or initiation of breastfeeding after birth. Before the intervention, 25% of babies received breast milk in the first hour of life. Over the two-year study period, this number increased to an average of 56% of babies – a percent difference of 76%! Skin-to-skin contact, which helps to regulate baby’s’ body temperatures, boosts bonding between mother and child, and increases breastfeeding, was also measured. At the initiation of the intervention, 0% of babies were reported as receiving this caring practice. We saw an average increase in skin-to-skin contact rise to 74% during our two year study period!

Although similar programs are implemented all over the world, not all have seen the same success that we have had here in Nicaragua. We believe that this is the result of one unique aspect of the AMOS and MINSA intervention: the level of follow-up and accompaniment we provide to trainees! When practitioners have the support they need to implement their training to the fullest, they see for themselves the results it has and they are motivated to do even more.

While these are huge regional-level changes, it’s also important to notice the changes these curriculums make in the lives of individual moms and babies. Dr. Katherine Guindo, an epidemiologist at the Pablo Úbeda Health Center in Santo Tomás, Chontales, shared with us how she was able to improve newborn care after participating in the ECEB and HBB training in March of 2017. Just two months after she participated in the training, Dr. Guindo faced an emergency in the delivery room, “of a baby who had a double cord around his neck,” Dr. Guindo recalled. The baby wasn’t breathing. “At this crucial moment, I followed what the HBB action plan indicated: stimulating the baby and then ventilating. The baby breathed and cried immediately afterwards.” Thanks to her training, Dr. Guindo was able to save this baby’s life! She and her other colleagues are encouraged by these positive results to continue to care for babies’ health with the utmost attention from the very first hours of their lives.

The curriculum has also helped her improve newborn care in the day-to-day operations of the health center, even when there is not an emergency. “Before the ECEB and HBB training,” Dr. Guindo explains, “my protocol was that immediately after childbirth, I would cut the baby’s umbilical cord and pass the baby on to the nursing staff to continue newborn care. I didn’t put too much emphasis on skin-to-skin contact. However, after receiving the training, I’m committed to paying closer attention to the care of our newborns. Before the training, I did not have much practice in facilitating actions when a newborn needed it. Now, I understand the importance of using the HBB action plan to help babies breathe.”

This work makes a crucial contribution to the health of that nation by strengthening the systems that dedicated professionals like Dr. Guindo and her colleagues use to bring attention and care to every baby they see in their health centers. We see a magnified effect of each person we train. Trainees are equipped to both pass on their knowledge to other colleagues to create sustainable and systematic change, and to ensure that every baby has a healthy start to life. This capacity development reaches far beyond just the individuals who are trained. Stories like Dr. Guidno’s remind us of precisely what we are celebrating when we celebrate the past decade of AMOS and the past five decades of this ministry! And at the same time, we know that we are also celebrating the decades to come in which we all continue to work together for health for all.

Thank you for taking part in what we do! Your donation will help families celebrate the healthy births of their children. We invite you to celebrate with us this year and consider making a gift to help us continue this important work into next year to improve health for mothers and babies in Nicaragua.

We dedicate this month’s article to the Ministry of Health staff who lost their lives during Tropical Storm Nate: Dr. Rosa Bravo, Adamaris del Socorro Sequeira, and Paúl Joel Rosales Urbina. Dr. Bravo and her MINSA colleagues were integral parts of the Essential Care for Every Baby team since the very beginning, and we are grief-stricken with the loss of our dedicated colleagues. Our heart goes out to the loved ones of all those who have lost their lives in Tropical Storm Nate here in Nicaragua and throughout Central America, and we are keeping everyone affected in our prayers.