Paediatric Society of Ghana’s (PSG) experts say mothers must seek immediate medical attention when they notice any abnormal change in the skin, eye, and stool colours of their babies.
They indicated that neonatal (newborn) jaundice which was a serious medical condition occur when the colour of the skin and eyes of the newborn baby begins to turn yellowish in the first 28 days (about 4 weeks) of life, and it was important that mothers closely monitored their babies under bright lights (preferably sunlight), and quickly report to health facilities for prompt treatment.
The Society therefore warned that newborns were at risk of suffering brain damages from neonatal jaundice without swift interventions, saying cases were often reported too late to health facilities, when the disease had already traveled into the baby’s brain causing irreparable damage.
Existing medical literature on the illness shows that it is increasing in Ghana, and quite common in preterm babies often due to an immature liver, however, some infections, medication or blood disorders may cause much serious cases.
For instance, the use of Camphor to preserve the clothing of babies with the blood condition known as G6PD deficiency and poor feeding, could lead to such an infection.
Dr Isabella Sagoe-Moses, the Deputy Director of Reproductive and Child Health, Ghana Health Service (GHS), at a round table stakeholders meeting in Accra, commended the PSG for and setting aside the month of May annually as “Yellow Month,’’ for increased public education and to also garner support for improved care.
She said the year’s theme: “Survive and Thrive: From Yellow to Hero,” was a call to all stakeholders and health partners for holistic support to improve access and quality care through enhanced infrastructure (equipment) and human resource capacity, to save these babies from the needless suffering and deaths.
Dr Sagoe-Moses noted that although neonatal jaundice was one of the serious illnesses contributing to high morbidity and mortality in children, very little was known about the disease and its devastating impact on the lives of individuals, families and the country.
“There is still so much misconceptions about neonatal jaundice, not only among the public, but also among health workers, hence the need to ensure continuous and sustained dissemination of vital information,” she said.
She urged hospital managers to provide training for health workers, with emphasis on midwives and traditional birth attendants who were the first point of call, and pleaded with District Assemblies and private sector partners, to make neonatal jaundice a budget priority for the procurement of diagnostic and phototherapy equipment for optimal care.
The Director suggested a multidisciplinary approach where healthcare managers, community leaders and groups, children and adolescents were engaged as focal persons and advocates within their various spaces for education.
Dr Sagoe-Moses said concrete strategies must be developed for effective resource mobilisation (both human and equipment), to ensure equitable distribution and management of newborn jaundice.
“Considering the debilitating and deadly effect of the disease, every effort must be made to arrest this public health gap,” she said.
During a panel discussion, the issue of myths about the causes and treatment of neonatal jaundice came up strongly, where societal beliefs such the consumption of certain foods like groundnuts and eggs or some fruits, had been blamed on pregnant women for the plights of their children.
Other misconceptions included the use of breastmilk to clear the yellowish colour on the eyes of babies.
The panelists admitted that although antenatal and post-natal clinics were very important interventions for mothers and their babies as they offered key opportunities for acquiring knowledge and assessing the health and wellbeing of both persons, the use of the Maternal and Child Health Record book as a holistic tool for information sharing and data gathering had not been maximized.
They urged the PSG to invest in advocacy tools by developing a uniformed material for effective education throughout the country, while engaging the private sector and faith-based organisations as partners to achieve a solution where everyone benefits.
Other suggestions included improving data for effective monitoring and policy interventions.
Naa Korkor Aadzeoyi, the Queen mother of Adabraka, a community in Accra, welcomed the positive engagement initiated by the PSG with the traditional leadership of communities in Ghana, saying their involvement would help ‘water’ down the education at the grassroots, communicating in the right or appropriate languages for better understanding and appreciation of the issues.
Dr Hilda Mantebea Boye, the General Secretary of the PSG, thanked all the participants for their active participation in the event and for supporting the efforts of the Society.