Neonatal Danger Signs: Are new mothers aware enough?
Both patients and doctors have a responsibility to educate themselves. The shortage of healthcare providers compared to a large number of patients is a major issue and makes it difficult for doctors to allocate enough time to each patient.
Although new motherhood is a time of joy and excitement, it can be overwhelming too, especially for mothers who are not equipped with the knowledge needed to identify the signs of life-threatening diseases in their neonates.
From the very first day of their life till 28 days, a neonate goes through many phases of adaptation in the outer world. The changes occur to their bodies so fast that a little bit of ignorance or carelessness can put them at risk, said neonatal health experts.
According to the World Health Organization, mothers should be aware of several danger signs in newborns, such as a decrease in food consumption, seizures or convulsions since birth, rapid breathing (more than 60 breaths in one minute), chest retractions, high fever (37.5°C or higher), low fever (35.4°C or lower), feet soles turning yellow, a lack of movement unless stimulated or no movement even when stimulated, and signs of infection such as redness or drainage from the umbilicus, skin boils, or pus drainage from the eyes.
The Daily Star interviewed 20 new mothers and none of them was aware of the danger signs that could turn fatal. Some of them came to know such signs for the first time.
Take the example of 25-year-old Mitu Akter, mother of three, who came to Azimpur Maternity Hospital around two weeks ago, with her 19-day-old baby suffering from a cold and cough.
When asked about the matter, Mitu said, "I don't know, because nobody told me about this."
Rokeya Begum (not her real name), a mother of three, came with her newborn who vomits after being fed. She too could not answer any of the neonatal danger signs mentioned by the WHO.
While some hospitals have posters displaying early warning signs of danger in newborns on their walls, many mothers were found to not pay attention to them, which can contribute to the rise in neonatal mortality rates in the country, which is currently around 22 per 1,000 live births, according to United Nations World Population Prospects.
Contacted, Prof Ferdousi Begum, president of the Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of Bangladesh, blamed the country's health service and educational system.
"Both patients and doctors have a responsibility to educate themselves. The shortage of healthcare providers compared to a large number of patients is a major issue and makes it difficult for doctors to allocate enough time to each patient," she said.
She also expressed concerns over the absence of counselling services within the healthcare system, unlike the developed countries.
Dr Md Mahmudur Rahman, director of the Maternal Child Health Services Unit, Directorate General of Family Planning (DGFP), said the population in Bangladesh is growing rapidly, leading to a doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:10,000, instead of the expected 1:3,000.
"Despite recent recruitment of medical professionals during the Covid-19 crisis, over 150,000 more doctors are needed to prevent future crises. Recruiting health sector counsellors is seen as a long-term process, given the current shortage of doctors," he said.
"Therefore, it is crucial for everyone, including mothers, to become educated and conscious about protecting future generations," he concluded.