Hope for Survival and a Healthier Future

Specialist Volunteers sharing their medical know-how have enabled better care for critically ill babies and renewed hope for thousands of families in Tamil Nadu, India, through a four-year neonatal training project.

The arrival of a newborn should be a time of celebration and joy. But for mothers and their families in the area of Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu, the birth of a child can at times be a journey of heartbreak or hoping for the best.

Every year, an estimated 2,500 newborn infants in the district (and beyond) who face life threatening conditions receive care at the Chengalpattu Medical College and Hospital (CMCH)’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Their chances of survival and a shot of a normal life improve with access to better-trained neonatal doctors and nurses, along the entire healthcare spectrum - from the hospital to the village clinics, and even to the timeliness of the ambulance services. With this in mind, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) collaborated with CMCH in a four-year partnership that provided enhanced training for these healthcare professionals caring for at-risk newborns.

From 2010 to 2013, teams of specialist volunteers comprising of neonatal doctors and neonatal ICU nurses from KK Womens’ and Childrens’ Hospital (KKH) in Singapore conducted training for some 220 counterparts in Chengalpattu on the areas of neonatal resuscitation, infection control and effective neonatal transportation practices, all of which are skills critical to saving the lives of premature and critically ill babies.

The project has not only uplifted the knowledge and skills of CMCH’s neonatal healthcare professionals, but has also impacted and will continue to impact the lives of thousands of critically ill babies and their families in Chengalpattu and beyond.

Bridging medical communities to save lives

The partnership between SIF and CMCH enabled the sharing of skills, knowledge and resources between the medical communities of Singapore and India, to improve the quality of medical care for newborns. The trainings were not confined to classroom teachings, but extended to bedside teaching and joint patient reviews.

After four years, the outcome has been encouraging. CMCH has seen a 15% reduction in infection-related infant mortality attributed to improved respiratory management practices and strengthened infection control standards.

Ms Ronikal Infenda, Singapore International Volunteer and Senior ICU Nurse at the Department of Neonatology, KKH who worked together with her nursing peers at CMCH, recounts that “during the initial trainings, I realised that oxygen tubes in the babies were often not secured properly and caused situations of respiratory distress, which can be prevented. So I shared with the trainees techniques to intubate the babies more effectively and that has allowed them to manage their workload and deliver better quality neonatal care at the same time.”

A total of 220 neonatal healthcare professionals were trained by Singapore International Volunteers like Ronikal Infenda (in orange), and were equipped with enhanced medical skills to better care for critically ill infants in the Chengalpattu district.

Besides the transfer of skills, Ronikal shared the importance of adopting a patient-centred approach to neonatal care. “Because the babies require constant, round-the-clock attention both while they are in the ICU and when they return home, I felt it was important to motivate the trainees to focus on providing top notch care for the babies and encourage them to be in constant communication with the family even after the babies’ discharge. After all, strong family support is necessary to complement the medical intervention they give,” she added.

Another trainee who has benefitted from the project is CMCH’s neonatologist, Dr Tony Germans. He said, “I have gained so much from this experience, both professionally and personally. The Singapore Volunteers shared their medical knowledge with us, but more importantly, they were working alongside us to solve difficult cases at times. They felt like family to me and I could trust them to help me out in the challenges I face. The friendships that were formed with my peers is priceless”.

Due to the enhanced professional standards of Dr Germans and the CMCH team, the hospital is now the preferred referral centre for at-risk newborns in the district, and has even began to receive referrals from private hospitals.

For Volunteer team leader Associate Professor Victor Samuel Rajadurai, Head & Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, KKH, he is heartened by the outcomes of the project as they demonstrate that “skills enhancement of neonatal specialists improves infant survival rates, enhance the quality of life for these babies and gives renewed hope to their families”.

These impressions of the Enhancing Newborn Services project in Chengalpattu, India were contributed by SIF staffer Tay Hsu Chern.

For other volunteering programmes, please click here to read more.

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