Scarcity of beds at neonatal ICU puts newborns at risk

Kathmandu, June 2

Finding a bed in neonatal intensive care unit at government hospitals in Kathmandu is a matter of sheer luck for many new parents, as these beds remain mostly occupied.

Tika Laxmi Tripathi, 31, of Koteshwor delivered her baby three weeks before her delivery date at a government hospital. As the hospital didn’t have its own neonatal intensive care unit, Tripathi and her husband had to run from pillar to post to find a vacant NICU bed for their newborn, at a private hospital.

Despite the implementation of the National Safe Motherhood Programme in the country to improve maternal and neonatal health, it is difficult to find beds in neonatal intensive care units of government hospitals.

A newborn has to wait until another neonate in the NICU is discharged or transferred or expires. Or until one is referred to a private hospital.

Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital has only 10 beds for neonates who need special care. “From among the 70 babies born every day at Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital, at least 10 babies require special care in NICU. We do not have adequate number of beds in NICU and we manage by shifting the newborns to Special Care Baby Unit.

There are twenty beds in SCBU, but that is still insufficient. Chances for babies born in other hospitals to get a bed in our NICU are very slim as we are unable to meet own demands. There is no other option than to ask concerned families to find NICU beds at private hospitals,” said Ranu Thapa, an administrator at the hospital.

Similar is the case at the largest health centre for children — Kanti Children’s Hospital. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Kanti Children’s Hospital has 12 beds, which are always occupied.

“As the beds are limited, we are unable to meet the demand. We have to refer neonates to private hospitals,” said one of the staffers at NICU of the hospital, who didn’t want to be named.

Babies born before 37 complete weeks require care at NICU. Babies born with infection, breathing difficulty, low birth weight, and those with their mothers having diabetes and bad obstetric history  need special care at NICU, said Rita Hamal Singh, senior consultant paediatrician at Om Hospital. Duration of stay in NICU depends on health condition of the newborn — from three or four days to months.

According to Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2016, the neonatal mortality rate is 21 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Fifty-four per cent death occur in the first month of life. Boys are more likely than girls to die in the first month.