Some mothers in Senegal are learning a new way to save the lives of babies born too soon. The idea is not really new. It borrows from the way mother kangaroos carry their young in front in a pouch. The joey -- what Australians call a baby kangaroo -- stays in this built-in baby carrier until it can survive independently.
Kangaroo mother care is also known as the skin-to-skin method for premature babies. The direct contact with the mother keeps the baby warm. It also lets the baby breastfeed at any time.
A movement to spread the use of the kangaroo method for preterm babies grew out of Bogota, Colombia, in the nineteen seventies.
Now, a doctor in Senegal who specializes in newborn care is leading a program financed by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF.
Every year, seven thousand babies are born at the health center where Ousmane Ndiaye works in Guediaway, outside Dakar. One in five is underweight. But Senegal has few incubators in which to keep premature babies warm.
In west and central Africa, one newborn in twenty dies. A major reason is prematurity -- the death rates are among the highest in the world.
Doctor Ndiaye says babies who weigh less than two kilos get special attention from midwives who assist with the births. They teach the mother how to keep the baby wrapped to her chest. The health center has a Kangaroo Clinic, a special area for teaching this method.
The mother's body heat is not the only thing that helps the baby. Her heartbeat helps control the baby's breathing rate.
Doctor Ndiaye says there are plans to expand the program throughout Senegal. But he believes the best way to get more people to use the kangaroo method is for mothers like Koumba Gueye to tell others about it.
Koumba Gueye recently had her third child, a boy. He arrived six weeks early. At first, she did not like carrying him in front. People looked at her strangely. She was not carrying him on her back, the traditional way. But after a few weeks, she says, the kangaroo method saved her baby's life.
And unlike a machine, the skin-to-skin contact provides two kinds of warmth -- physical and emotional.
And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with reporting by Fid Thompson in Dakar. The World Health Organization has a guide to kangaroo mother care. For a link, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.