March 2018 Araria, Bihar: Trishna Chakraborty, 26, had finished her shift as a nurse at the Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) in Araria District Hospital and was busy cooking her evening meal when someone knocked at her door. It was a health worker, who told her that a newborn baby girl had just been brought to the SNCU from the Narpatganj Primary Health Centre, and was not in a good state. Trishna abandoned her meal, and quickly changed back into her uniform.
‘It was one of the coldest days this January.’ Trishna recalls. ‘When I reached the SNCU I found the baby girl in a serious condition. She weighed just 1300 grams, half of what a normal baby weighs at birth. She was breathing very slowly and was very cold -- a typical case of hypothermia. We were pained to see injury marks on her on face. We immediately started treatment as per the directions of medical officer of SNCU.’
Hypothermia is very dangerous for newborns, especially very small ones who loose heat quickly. Trishna and the other staff wrapped the baby in warm clothes to bring her temperature up, then gave her oxygen to help with her breathing. They tried to track down her mother, who had abandoned her after giving birth at the Narpatganj Primary Health Centre, but she had given a false address and they could not identify her.
Their priority was to save the baby, and that is just what they did. “I am proud of our SNCU in-charge Trishna Chakraborty who saved this little girl from the jaws of death and gave her the loving care of a mother,” says Dr. Nazish Ahmad Neyaz, Hospital Manager of Araria Civil Hospital.
SNCU’s, 40 of which have been set up in Bihar alone with advocacy and support from UNICEF, provide free treatment for all sick and small newborns. They are equipped with modern medical equipment and staffed by expert teams. ‘We are working closely with the state’s health department and medical colleges and have helped train 149 doctors and 369 nurses in facility based newborn care,’ shares Dr Syed Hubbe Ali, Health Specialist, UNICEF Bihar.
Many babies pass through the SNCU’s doors, but Trishna felt a special connection to this one. She decided that instead of leaving to go home straight away when her shifts ended, she would put extra time into caring for the baby girl, who she named Khushi, meaning happiness. Trishna would frequently come in to check on Khushi from the staff quarters near the SNCU where she lived.
“Earlier, I worked at Birla Heart Institute in Kolkata and was keen to continue in cardiac care,’ says Trishna, who is the sole provider for her parents who still live in the Singhbhum district of West Bengal from which she hails. ‘I felt a bit disappointed when I was assigned to work in SNCU in September 2017, but today I feel extremely proud. With our care and treatment, we help save so many newborns. I am really happy we could save Khushi,” she says beaming with happiness and pride.
In recent years, Bihar has made great progress in reducing the infant mortality rate, however, the infant mortality among girls remains higher than that of boys. Parents and communities tend to neglect the healthcare of girls. This is reflected in the lower admission rates of sick newborn girls in SNCUs (36%) as against boys (44%).
Deputy Civil Surgeon of Araria Dr JN Prasad says “SNCU is playing an important role in reducing neonatal and infant mortality in Bihar. From April 2017 to March 2018, 1145 critically sick newborns were admitted in the SNCU in Araria. We managed to treat and save 78 per cent of them.”
What now for baby Khushi? Many families have come forward offering to adopt her after hearing about her case, but it is important to make sure that every child is looked after and cared for, not just those with miraculous stories like Kushi’s. “It is heartening to see many people coming forward to adopt baby Khushi, but as per the policy, we referred the case to the District Child Welfare Committee and in March, Kushi was given to the Special Adoption Agency,” informs Rehan Ashraf, District Programme Manager, National Health Mission, Government of Bihar.