600g of life

Let me tell you the story of 600g of life.

Aisha* asks: Anyone had a premature born baby? 

I see a bunch of hands slowly rising among the audience. 5 or 6 out of how many? 100 women? Too many, if you ask me.

Aisha continues: Oh, well, only few then, the rest of you are lucky. My baby was born 600g.

Aisha stretches her palm and grabs the wrist: That’s just about it. How big my baby was, the size of a palm, with little legs, and little hands and everything.

At that moment, I’m sure everyone is gazing at the striking size of the small palm and visualizing what it means to hold 600g of life in it. If you ever held a normal, healthy 3kg newborn baby in your hands, you already know how small and fragile it is… 600g is beyond my imagination.

Aisha goes on: They put him in an incubator, together with the other premature born babies. There was 10 of them. On the morning I went to see him, I saw only 6 babies, my heart stopped, was my baby one of them? 

So….  How this makes you feel? Sad? Shocked? Speechless? Emotional?

I tried to google it. What’s the chance for your baby to survive, if you give birth to a premature born baby? In UK, some sources say, it’s above 80%, rising up from 40% in the 90s and up from 50% just 10 years ago. But how about in 2016, in a secluded rural area in East Africa, with poor infrastructure; no paved roads; when you live many kilometers away from the nearest settlement; not well equipped facilities; where many of the births are delivered by traditional birth attendants, at home, wherever home is? In other words, when you are bound to deliver in much poorer conditions? Even if you deliver under professional care, if your baby weighs just 600g, when there’s not enough incubators, what do you do?

In case you wonder, there is a happy ending for Aisha and her baby, or rather a happy beginning, Aisha now has a healthy boy going to kindergarten. This is largely because Aisha was enrolled in Kangaroo Mother Care program**, which Save the Children (in this case with a donation by GSK), runs as part of their (or should I say our) Child Survival programming, in Kenya. (by the way, watch the video!)

And it’s just one story. One of so many more to tell. 

I was listening to Aisha’s story at 7:30 a.m., on a chilly winter morning in Nairobi, in GSK office, where 200 people gathered to support a fundraising initiative “Trek for kids”, to contribute towards GSK and Save the Children partnership.

It felt surreal to me, from the mechanical-almost-habitual wake-up-coffee-shower-breakfast-clothes-on-taxi-formal-good-mornings, to plunge into such emotional depths that early in the morning.

It felt surreal to me, when during this fundraising someone bid 100,000 KES for a dinner voucher that hardly costs 1/10th of the prize (that’s about 700 GBP, wow!).

It also felt surreal to me to be a visiting guest in my own company. I’m a GSK Pulse volunteer with Save the Children. So which is “my” company? Am I red or am I orange? Is it Save the Children or is it GSK? Oh, I know, right now it’s both, with the common cause to raise funds for such great initiatives like Kangaroo Mother Care; with the big ambition to save the lives of one million children all over the world!

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*Aisha means “life” in Swahili. I changed the name on purpose.

**Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) promotes continuous, prolonged early skin to skin contact between a baby and mother/other adult, at least 18 hours/day for several weeks. This provides warmth, promotes breastfeeding, reduces infections, it’s a powerful easy to use method to promote health and well being of infants for preterm and low birth weight babies.

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The PULSE Volunteer Partnership is GSK’s skills-based volunteering initiative. Through PULSE, motivated employees are matched to a non-profit organisation for 3 or 6 months full-time, contributing their skills to solve healthcare challenges at home and abroad. When PULSE Volunteers return to GSK, they act as catalysts to change the company for the better.