In November 2019, senior representatives of the INTERPRACTICE-21st Project (IP21), Prof. José Villar (University of Oxford & IP21 Lead), Prof. Ana Langer (Harvard University & IP21 High-level Engagement Lead) and Josephine Agyeman-Duah (University of Oxford, IP21 Senior Coordinator & Country Lead for Ghana) visited Ghana as part of their global efforts to promote care for children born preterm in the country.
IP21 collaborates with Ghana through the National Catholic Health Service (NCHS) and has so far supported the implementation of the preterm growth monitoring charts within the NCHS.
Until now, all children born preterm in Ghana have been monitored on the WHO infant growth charts designed for children who were born at term, that is, from 37 weeks of pregnancy and onwards.
As part of IP21’s visit, the team paid a courtesy call on the First Lady of the Republic of Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-Addo.
The meeting with the First Lady was an opportunity to learn from the First Lady herself about her many initiatives in the maternal and child health space and to share information about the work of IP21 in Ghana and globally within the context of universal health coverage.
As the Mother of the Nation, the health of mothers and children has been a top priority for Mrs. Akufo Addo.
Through her Rebecca Akufo-Addo Foundation, the First Lady has contributed towards and led a number of important projects: for example, building a Mother-Baby Unit at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, one of the nation’s tertiary hospitals; refurbishing maternity wards, and carrying out many other infrastructural improvements to complement health service delivery for mothers and children in Ghana.
What is the INTERPRACTICE-21st Project about?
INTERPRACTICE-21st (IP21) is a consortium of international health experts and scientists who are committed to improving the survival, growth and development of preterm infants worldwide.
The project is the first of its kind globally to promote the use of international standards, based on WHO recommendations, for monitoring the growth of infants who were born preterm, i.e. less than 37 weeks of pregnancy.
In parallel, the IP21 is also promoting evidence-based feeding protocols that highlight the importance of giving breast milk to all preterm infants.
Preterm birth is the major cause of under 5 mortality in Ghana and throughout the world. Improving health outcomes for preterm infants will, therefore, help Ghana to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on children under 5.
Why are the IP21 charts important?
Children born preterm are generally born with low birth weight. It takes up to 6 months for premature babies to ‘catch-up’ in weight compared to their counterparts who were born at term.
The risk for premature babies being monitored with the ‘regular’ charts designed for babies born at term, means
the preterm baby will always be seen as ‘underweight’, ‘small for age’ or ‘undernourished’.
Mothers, caregivers and even health professionals, therefore, have a tendency to over feed these babies. Attempts to make preterm babies put on weight too quickly significantly increases their risk of obesity, which further complicates the other underlying risk factors associated with being born preterm.
The risk of obesity continues into adult life: so preterm babies sometimes become obese adults.
How IP21 has been working in Ghana:
The IP21 project is supporting Ghana to roll out the best way to monitor the postnatal growth of preterm babies using international charts specifically designed for this purpose.
The IP21 team is providing training for health workers, as well as infrastructural support, e.g. sponsoring the printing of the growth monitoring charts and the purchase of infantometers for the hospitals in the project’s first phase.
Discussions are ongoing with the Ministry of Health, which is very interested in adopting the preterm growth monitoring standards for the entire country.
IP21 ultimately aims to roll out the standards, which are already being used in Sri Lanka and Brazil, not just across Ghana, but also across other African countries.
In conjunction with the NCHS and other local stakeholders, the IP21 team will also collaborate with the Office of the First Lady to build health worker capacity through the INTERGROWTH-21st e-learning platform.
They and the First Lady’s Foundation are open to future collaborations to promote care for babies born preterm.
A joint commitment to promote care for the preterm baby:
IP21 congratulates the First Lady for her commitment to promote maternal and child health in Ghana.
The First Lady exchanges greetings with the IP21 team from the University of Oxford and Harvard University.
The leadership of the NCHS, IP21 Team from the University of Oxford and Harvard University, and a representative from the Ministry of Health with the First Lady.
The Ministry of Health is on board
The Deputy Minister of Health, Alexander K. K. Abban Esq. commended the IP21 team for its collaboration with the NCHS and gave the assurance on behalf of the Ministry to promote the IP21 work in Ghana.
The Minister commented that, the ‘Ministry’s mandate is to promote the health of Ghanaians and for that matter all resident in Ghana, and therefore it is open to any initiative that will enable the Ministry to fulfil this mandate to Ghanaians.
He added, ‘we are ready to adopt good practices and knowledge to resolve the existing problem’.
The Director, Policy Planning Monitoring and Evaluation (PPME), Dr. Emmanuel Ankrah Odame, also lauded the IP21 idea and gave the assurance of his unit’s support towards the scale up of the IP21 work in Ghana.
Dr. Ernest Asiedu, Head, Quality Management Unit at the Ministry of Health is working closely with the relevant offices at the Ministry to engage the NCHS, the agency so far spearheading the implementation and adoption of the IP21 standards in Ghana.
IP21 team with the Honourable Deputy Minister of Health
IP21 team with some directors (PPME and Quality Initiatives) at the Ministry of Health.
Written by Josephine Agyeman-Duah (University of Oxford) INTERPRACTICE-21st Senior Coordinator and Country Lead for Ghana