"So sometimes, it looks like it's a neglected ward": Health worker perspectives on implementing kangaroo mother care in southern Malawi

PLoS One. 2020 Dec 17;15(12):e0243770. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0243770. eCollection 2020.

Abstract

Introduction: Kangaroo mother care (KMC) involves continuous skin-to-skin contact of baby on mother's chest to provide warmth, frequent breastfeeding, recognizing danger signs of illness, and early discharge. Though KMC is safe, effective and recommended by the World Health Organization, implementation remains limited in practice. The objective of this study is to understand barriers and facilitators to KMC practice at tertiary and secondary health facilities in southern Malawi from the perspective of health workers.

Methods: This study is part of the "Integrating a neonatal healthcare package for Malawi" project in the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa initiative. In-depth interviews were conducted between May-Aug 2019 with a purposively drawn sample of service providers and supervisors working in newborn health at a large tertiary hospital and three district-level hospitals in southern Malawi. Data were analyzed using a thematic approach using NVivo 12 software (QSR International, Melbourne, Australia).

Findings: A total of 27 nurses, clinical officers, paediatricians and district health management officials were interviewed. Staff attitudes, inadequate resources and reliance on families emerged as key themes. Health workers from Malawi described KMC practice positively as a low-cost, low-technology solution appropriate for resource-constrained health settings. However, staff perceptions that KMC babies were clinically stable was associated with lower prioritization in care and poor monitoring practices. Neglect of the KMC ward by medical staff, inadequate staffing and reliance on caregivers for supplies were associated with women self-discharging early.

Conclusion: Though routine uptake of KMC was policy for stable low birthweight and preterm infants in the four hospitals, there were gaps in monitoring and maintenance of practice. While conceptualized as a low-cost intervention, sustainable implementation requires investments in technologies, staffing and hospital provisioning of basic supplies such as food, bedding, and KMC wraps. Strengthening hospital capacities to support KMC is needed as part of a continuum of care for premature infants.

Grant support

MWK, ALNM, KK, QD and DG were funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). Project ID is 108030. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.