Dr. Rudolph Stevens smiles when he tells a group of visiting doctors and nurses that his hospital is “of royal lineage.” He is the Senior Medical Officer at Victoria Jubilee Hospital here in Kingston, where nearly 9,000 of this country’s tiniest and newest citizens are born each year. The hospital conceived in 1887, during the 50th year of the reign of Queen Victoria; thus the name. Today, the hospital answers its phones with, “Good morning, this is Victoria Jubilee, the birthplace of Jamaica.”
I can safely say I’ve never before seen so many pregnant women in one place. They lined the courtyard entrance to the hospital where a woman in all white led singing, and they filled the waiting room of the prenatal clinic.
Our contingent of military medical personnel and civilian volunteers visited this hospital to train the nurses and nurse-midwives in a new program called “Helping Babies Breathe”(HBB). Along with two military nurses, Project HOPE’s Medical Director Tracey Kunkel led the training.
The objective of HBB, initiated by the American Academy of Pediatrics in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global health organizations, is to train birth attendants in resource-limited areas in the essential skills of newborn resuscitation. It is estimated that one million babies die each year from birth asphyxia and that wide dissemination of this training will help to reduce these deaths significantly.
With the aid of an inflatable infant doll and a kit of simple materials, our trainers demonstrated a series of techniques to employ when a newborn does not begin breathing on its own. If manual stimulation and the clearing of mucus do not induce a cry, the onset of breathing is jump-started by a hand-help manual pump and mask that gently inflate the baby’s lungs. Trainees were taught to say out loud, “Breathe, baby breathe” to time the breaths, with breath provided in on the first word, and release of air on the second two words.
A doctor and thirty-five nurses and nurse-midwives are now trained here in Kingston to both employ this life-saving technique, and to train others in it. We greatly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with them, and one nurse from the Prenatal Clinic gave us a big laugh when we asked what her role was. “ I tell people I work in the Production Department of the Ministry of Health…Production, not Repair.”
A Helping Babies Breathe kit was provided to the hospital to facilitate further training of birthing attendants throughout Jamaica. Project HOPE is often thought of primarily a provider of medical services, but medical training is a core function of our mission, in the belief that it contributes to the health of our host nations long after our ship has left their harbors.
Before and after our training session, our group met with Dr. Stevens to learn about maternal health services in Jamaica and to take a tour of the hospital. Seeing Tracey’s and my Project HOPE shirts, Dr. Stevens thanked us for “Project HOPE’s wonderful work in Jamaica over the years.” He then asked the two of us into his office to discuss the possibility of future projects. We all exchanged contact information, demonstrating another aspect of HOPE’s mission: building collaborative relationships throughout the world.
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