After 20 years of contributing in the lives of pregnant women, newborn babies and infants; the South African Medical Research Council's (MRC’s) Maternal and Infant Health Care Strategies Unit will finally become a fully fledged center of the University of Pretoria (UP). A vision of Prof Robert Pattinson, the Research Centre for Maternal, Fetal, Newborn and Child Health Care at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology today boasts a treasure trove of experts and knowledge gathered since the unit’s inception in 1997.
The new Centre continues in the footsteps of the Maternal and Infant Health Care Strategies Unit, which has been a joint venture between UP and the MRC. Its goals echo those of Prof Robert Pattinson: to seek solutions to the primary and secondary health care levels that are saleable and sustainable.
“By seeking we mean performing research; by saleable we mean solutions that are acceptable to all, namely women, health care workers and health administrators; and by solutions we mean health strategies that have been developed to solve the problems identified,” he says.
Hot on the heels of the Unit’s birth in 1997, the National Committee for Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths (NCCEMD) was established. Working in collaboration with the Unit, NCCEMD has tackled factors associated with maternal deaths by collecting data on the numbers, common causes and avoidable factors.
The unit publishes the findings in the Saving Mothers report, which are published three times in a year and widely distributed at the primary and secondary health care levels. The report identifies preventable maternal deaths that are preventable (such as those due to infections or hypertension-related complications) and suggests areas for improvement.
“These conditions comprise 66.7% of preventable maternal deaths, which could be significantly reduced with adequate knowledge and skills from healthcare providers,” Pattinson says.
The Unit has followed up the Saving Mothers reports with Saving Babies (focusing on perinatal care) and Saving Children (focusing on the healthcare of infants and children up to 18 years that are admitted to paediatric wards).
South Africa faces preventable issues of newborn illness, childhood illness, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition as a result of poverty, which have led the Unit to develop the Perinatal Problem Identification Programme (PPIP). The Unit developed PPIP as a tool to help district hospitals measure the number of perinatal and maternal deaths, and track their causes.
With information the Unit has gathered over the years, the Unit has developed and implemented effective, low-cost solutions where cost is a concern. One example has been the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) technique of caring for premature babies, which ensures skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the premature baby.
“The premature baby lies on the bare chest of the mother, which ensures the baby is kept warm,” Pattinson explains. “physiologically the mother concentrates heat to the area, making this method more effective than an incubator.”
This Unit has come a long way on its journey to becoming a centre at UP; on the way it has helped UP become a well-known name across all the districts of South Africa. Under the directorship of Prof Robert Pattinson, the Unit has made a considerable difference at a primary and secondary level of health care in South Africa, and as a Centre will continue this good work on a global stage.
UP’s new Research Centre for Maternal, Fetal, Newborn and Child Health Care will take more than 20 years of maternal and child health expertise forward into a new phase of innovation to save lives across South Africa and the world.