Nine health facilities in the Balaka District of Malawi recently received supplies that will transform the quality of care for more than 2,000 preterm and low birth weight (LBW) babies and their mothers.

The shipment—which included special feeding cups, wraps for skin-to-skin contact, hospital gowns, bed linens, and baby hats and socks—was made possible through donations from Larry and Mary Lynn Weitzen, Jody Mincks and The Sabin Children’s Foundation. The Weitzens are longtime supporters of Project Concern International (PCI) and learned about the needs in Malawi through the USAID-funded Every Preemie-SCALE project. In June, they visited the Balaka District Hospital, where they were able to see part of their donation in action.

Larry and Mary Lynn Weitzen meet with families and health workers at the Balaka District Hospital in Malawi.

“Getting to the hospital could take an entire day for these women, and those women who did not have a bed simply put a piece of cloth on the ground and slept,” said Larry Weitzen, who is also a PCI board member. “It was an eye-opening experience. We could see that the funds we gave really did help.”

Each year in Malawi, 18% of babies are born too soon and 14% are born too small. While these fragile newborns can survive, many do not because of under-resourced care and limited health services. In fact, in low-income settings, only 10% of extremely preterm babies survive.

The Every Preemie project partnered with the Malawi Ministry of Health and the Balaka District Health Management Team to address this issue and strengthen community and clinical practices and interventions. Initial efforts included outfitting local health facilities with much-needed supplies to support the care of early and small newborns and their mothers.

Access to warmth plays a critical role in keeping preterm/LBW babies stable. However, many clinics in the Balaka District could not afford to provide patients with the proper supplies to cover their babies’ heads and feet and avoid hypothermia. Additionally, the mothers of these fragile newborns often had to choose between using one small linen to cover themselves or to serve as their hospital bedding, offering little privacy at a very vulnerable time.

Some of the materials procured with support from Larry and Mary Lynn Weitzen, Jody Mincks and The Sabin Children’s Foundation.

After the Every Preemie project was able to source support from private donors, these facilities now have 2,000 matching baby hats and socks, 40 hospital gowns, curtains, and bed covers made from local fabrics to give patients a more comfortable, healthy and dignified stay.

Another upgrade took place within the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) units, where parents are encouraged to practice skin-to-skin care with their newborns. Traditional wraps were supplemented with 120 modern style wraps that allow mothers and fathers alike to apply this method. According to Healthy Newborn Network, KMC provides protection against infection, regulates temperature, breathing and brain activity, and encourages mother-baby bonding.

Finally, for the preterm/LBW babies who lack the strength to breastfeed, the Every Preemie project obtained 4,000 calibrated feeding cups. Without these cups, it’s difficult to know if a baby is receiving an adequate amount of breast milk. The health facilities have made arrangements to provide patients with this basic tool both during their stay and upon discharge. This ensures their babies will continue to receive the nourishment they need to grow and thrive.

“As a district, we are short of words. You have met us at a point of need,” said Dr. Eugene Katenga Kaunda, the physician in charge of health services at the Balaka District Health Office. “We and the caretakers are greatly motivated to increase our energy in caring for these babies.”

By Elimase Kamanga and Maureen Simpson