• Newborns face many risks because of their vulnerability. Those born at home especially in the rural areas face even more challenges if they are born prematurely.

    Preterm babies are born too early, less than 37 weeks of pregnancy and are particularly at risk.

    But with the new foot measurement system, babies in Uganda have better chances of surviving death.

    An 18-month-long study conducted by Makerere University School of Public Health in Iganga district show that foot length may be used in the identification of low birth weight (LBW) and preterm babies who are in need of extra care.

    This new system if well used in the rural areas, could help reduce the death rates particularly of preterm babies which stands at 25 percent (13 per 1,000 live births) in Uganda, putting the country in the 28th position worldwide with the highest preterm deaths.

    Babies need extra medical care if they weigh less than 2.5 kilograms or are premature- born before 37 weeks. Such babies need essential care including drying, warming, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, hygiene and cord care. These specialized activities can mean a difference between life and death for newborn babies.

    How the system works

    Village Health Teams (VHTs) designed and used the foot length measuring cards to determine whether the baby was at a health risk depending on the length of their feet.

    The card bears two pictures of a newborn’s feet; one measures 7.6 cm and below meaning the baby needs extra care while the other one measures 7.6 cm and above (for normal baby).

    According to the preliminary results of the study which started in April 2015, newborn feet length of less than 7.6 cm has sensitivity and could translate to low birth weight, less than 2.5kgs.

    During the period of the study whose partial results were released last week in Kampala, about 280 high-risk cases were identified and admitted to the special care unit of Iganga hospital.

    Dr Gertrude Namazzi, the principal investigator for the high-risk newborn study said there was an over 90 percent survival registered during the study.

    One of the success stories recorded is the case of a 0.8kg baby, born on September 29, 2015, who was identified and admitted to hospital for specialized care. When last weighed on March 24, 2016, the baby had 2.7kgs.

    Dr Namazzi advised that babies whose feet are smaller than the foot on the card, be taken to the hospital immediately.

    In rural Uganda, about 1 in 30 babies born prematurely will not make it past four weeks. This new system will help diagnose the health risk in time giving babies a chance at life.

    In a 1979 study in Manchester, the foot length system being used in Uganda proved to be an efficient means of measuring premature babies considered too ill for other measurement methods.

    The method has also been adopted and used in Tanzania and has posted successful reports.

    Much is being done in the country to prevent preterm birth and low birth weight as well as improve outcomes for small babies. If adopted, this will help Uganda achieve one of its 2030 sustainable development goals, which is to end preventable deaths in newborns and children under the age of five.

    Image credit: Photograph: Alamy