The care mothers and babies receive before, during and after birth can affect their safety, wellbeing and the child’s development for years to come. Awareness of vaccination in antenatal care has new significance this World Patient Safety Day, Friday, 17 September, which focuses on mothers and newborns, as the COVID-19 vaccine offers significant protection against the virus for pregnant women and their unborn babies.
“World Patient Safety Day is an international day of awareness that aims to build global understanding of patient safety and promote global actions to improve patient safety, and this year’s theme is ‘Safe maternal and newborn care’,” says Verena Bolton, national coordinator of Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks.
“Maternity safety starts well before birth with antenatal care, as taking care of the health of the mother-to-be and her unborn baby automatically contributes to their ongoing wellbeing. A recently updated circular from the Department of Health advises that pregnant women should be informed that they face a slightly higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease, and should be offered the vaccine during any stage of pregnancy or breastfeeding.
“Previously, the immunisation awareness in antenatal classes, such as those provided by the experienced nurses at Netcare mother and baby wellness clinics, was primarily focused on the baby to reduce child mortality. Now it has also become important to also make parents aware that both mothers and babies are safer when the mother has been vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Bolton says that being exclusively fed on breastmilk is another integral element that supports the safety of newborn babies. “Breastmilk offers the best possible start in life for all babies. It contains IgA, which is one of a range of immunoglobulins, and this confers immunity to neonates until their immune system has matured and is able to start producing its own antibodies. Breastmilk also contains oligosaccharides, which are prebiotics to prime the baby’s digestive system with normal gut flora; and lactoferrin, which destroys harmful microorganisms.”
Early initiation of breastfeeding is therefore encouraged within Netcare maternity units, and support is offered to mothers to continue breastfeeding, as per international recommendations. “Babies whose health is compromised in some way receive the most benefit, particularly from age-appropriate milk, and this can play an invaluable role in their survival and in supporting their development and recovery.”
Netcare neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) throughout South Africa contribute to the Vermont Oxford Network (VON), an international information platform that promotes data-driven quality improvement through benchmarking.
“Netcare’s participation in VON helps to ensure we are continuously measuring each baby’s care in our NICUs in terms of international best practice. Quality improvement can only be empirically tracked through benchmarking, which enables us to measure our performance on key indicators that contribute to better clinical outcomes,” she says.
“We have focused on the cornerstones of care, and have seen significant improvement in several key indicators year on year, including babies across all birthweights achieving an ideal temperature within the first hour of life. The proportion of babies discharged from Netcare NICUs receiving breastmilk only in 2019 was at 44.7%, compared to the international average of 22.5%, and this improved further in 2020 to 47,3% at Netcare hospitals, more than double the global figure of 21.6%,” Bolton says.
“Netcare is deeply committed to ensuring that high risk babies in both the private and public sectors have access to the safety benefits associated with age-appropriate breastmilk,” adds Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment.
“The Netcare Foundation recognised the importance of securing stocks of breastmilk because of its immense health and developmental benefits. Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks use a state-of-the-art digital system to track and trace breastmilk donations every step of the way from donor to recipient, and records all details relevant to matching donor milk to the recipient babies.”
Breastmilk is donated by eligible women who are breastfeeding and have excess milk, which they express under specific hygienic conditions and deliver it to Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks or depots based at 36 Netcare maternity facilities. The milk is then pasteurised, and then it is tested, frozen and safely stored. In February 2019, Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks started providing breastmilk to hospitals in the public sector, including Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital (RMMCH) and more recently Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH).
“The safety of patients is always our first priority, and we are constantly striving to find ways to further optimise care for mothers and babies through rigorous benchmarking, promoting awareness of the lifesaving benefits of breastmilk and value of the COVID-19 vaccine for reducing maternal and neonatal health risks,” Bolton concludes.
For more information on World Patient Safety Day, please visit the World Health Organization website at www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2021/09/17/default-calendar/world-patient-safety-day-2021
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