When Evelyne’s baby boy was born prematurely at seven months, she was terrified he wouldn’t survive.

After fleeing from violence in South Sudan, Evelyne gave birth in a small health centre without resuscitators, incubators or adequate medical supplies. But the centre did have a basic maternity ward and midwives who had been trained in neonatal care.

Immediately after her son’s birth, Evelyne was encouraged by her midwife to start skin-to-skin contact – or Kangaroo Mother Care, as it is known across Africa – to help stabilise her tiny baby’s body temperature.

“My baby was born very early, so I put him between my breasts to keep him warm. The nurse gave me blankets to cover us up,” Evelyne says.

Kangaroo Mother Care has proved so effective in treating hypothermia in newborns that it is now replacing incubators in many low-resource settings.

For example, in small clinics and health centres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – which often lack not only medicines and equipment but a reliable supply of electricity – Kangaroo Mother Care is a life-saving strategy for health workers to have at their disposal.

Dr Ann Burton, UNHCR’s Chief of Public Health, emphasises the urgent need for neonatal training for health workers in the DRC, where an estimated 96,000 newborns die every year.

“Our advice is always ‘skilled attendants at delivery’. While it’s best for a woman to give birth in a health facility, this is not always possible. In the end, it’s not so much where the delivery takes place but who is in attendance. Whether it’s a doctor, nurse or midwife, they need to be skilled in managing basic obstetric complications,” says Ann.


Kangaroo Mother Care, or skin-to-skin contact, can be as effective at stabilising a newborn’s body temperature as a neonatal incubator.

© UNHCR/J. Redden

As well as Kangaroo Mother Care, staff need to be trained in other simple but high-impact interventions during the first hour of a newborn’s life, known as the ‘golden hour’. These include manual resuscitation techniques and cord care – a third of all neonatal deaths are caused by an infection entering the baby’s body through the umbilical cord stump.

Educating new mothers about the importance of early breastfeeding is also an important strategy in preventing newborns deaths, as breast milk contains powerful antibodies that protect babies from infection.

Evelyne’s baby received the critical care he needed to survive, but childbirth remains a matter of life and death for many refugee women and their newborns.

This World Refugee Day, help save the life of a newborn by delivering urgent neonatal care to the DRC 

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