Kangaroo method reduces child mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Artsen Zonder Vakantie
05 December 2017
Did you know that each year more than 20 million babies are born with a birth weight lower than 2.5 kg? And that more than 96% of these babies are born in developing countries? That's why Medics Without Vacation uses the very simple and effective kangaroo method to protect these weaker babies.

In the event of a premature birth and/or a low birth weight, the babies are often susceptible to hypothermia, even in the warm African climate.  In Belgium we would  nurse these babies in an incubator, which in our African partner hospitals is normally not a (good) solution. There are simply no or an insufficient number of incubators  and often the available incubators are obsolete or do not function properly.  Besides, power cuts occur frequently in many parts of  Sub-Saharan Africa, which would obviously be life-threatening. In many cases it is therefore better not to use any incubators.

Consequently many of our partner hospitals  are faced with a major problem:  hypothermia affecting premature babies and a neonatal mortality rate that is much too high. Yet, there is a very simple and effective way to tackle this problem: the kangaroo method.

How does the kangaroo method work?

Just like a young kangaroo in its mothers pouch, the baby is continuously carried skin-to-skin with the mother, the father or another member of the family. This person’s body temperature keeps the baby warm. Only a wrap and a hat and socks are needed to effectively prevent the baby from cooling down. Contrary to an incubator, this technique lasts a lifetime.

So the kangaroo method is very simple, but also extremely effective.  Skin-to-skin contact with the parents implies a better development of the baby; even better than in an incubator. Moreover the baby is safer: the mother (or any other carrier) can immediately react when a problem arises. This dramatically reduces the mortality risk. Also the feeding is easier, making the de baby gain weight more quickly.  And last but not least the method can be continued at home.

In conclusion, the kangaroo method is extremely effective and can diminish by up to 50% the mortality risk in premature babies.


Skin-to-skin contact with the parents implies a better development of the baby; even better than in an incubator. Moreover the baby is safer.

Mother and father holding their baby against their skin.
© Medics without vacation

Training and awareness-raising

In Belgium, the kangaroo method seems to be rather obvious and simple, but it is more difficult in Africa due to cultural differences.  Moreover, in order for the method  to be successful the correct position and timing are of utmost importance.  Therefore the voluntary midwives of Medics Without Vacation offer support, training and assistance in full  accordance with the local context and habits.

Through this exchange of knowledge the local midwives in the African partner hospitals can teach in their turn the kangaroo method to young mothers.

‘I want to make the kangaroo method common practice without delay. We even have a separate room for this purpose: a ‘kangaroo unit’ where the mothers can learn to use the method in all serenity’, as concludes dr Akintije Simba Calliope, director of the hospital in Mibilizi (Rwanda).




Dr. Balagizi


Doctor Aimé Balagizi, local doctor and director of the partner hospital of Nyantende in the  DR Congo: ‘Losing a child or mother during childbirth is the worst thing that can happen, particularly when you know that due to a lack of knowledge with regard to certain techniques our doctors are not able to react in the best possible way.  During the missions of Medics Without Vacation I assist the Belgian surgeon. In doing so I can learn new techniques and pass them on to my colleagues here in Eastern Congo. In the long term this will help much more mothers and newborn babies.’


About Medics without Vacation


Medics without Vacation – partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation – brings together 600 Belgian doctors, nurses and technicians who work as volunteers in partner hospitals spread across five African countries.  During their vacation they commit to supporting and training their African colleagues at the operating table, in the infirmary or in the laboratory.

Medics Without Vacation maintains long-term partnerships with each partner hospital. The most impressive moment is when our help is no longer needed, or when knowledge really heals!



Health Rwanda Child mortality
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