It was a proud moment for the entire nation when Anila Ali Bardai, Head Nurse at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, received the award for excellence in neonatal nursing at the opening ceremony of the 8th International Conference of Neonatal Nurses, held at the Waterfront Hotel in Belfast, Ireland.
Bardai, the first Pakistani nurse to win the coveted award, shared the honour with Kenyan nurse Christine Sammy, while Netasyi Gowero, a nurse from Malawi, was the runner-up. Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots joined nurses from around the world in honouring the three neonatal nurses for their commitment to save mothers and newborns during childbirth in some of the hardest places to work around the world.
According to a statement issued on Friday, the awards are organised by Save the Children and the Council of International Neonatal Nurses (COINN), and the previous winners were from Ghana and India.
“Anila, Christine and Netsayi were selected over a number of outstanding candidates for their unwavering leadership and passion for ensuring every newborn has a chance to survive,” said COINN President Karen New, “All three women work in newborn care units in busy referral hospitals, providing care to underserved populations. We can take good care for granted in rich countries but in such conditions, it has to be developed and defended by committed professionals.”
Each year, three million newborns die during their first month, with Pakistan having the third highest number of deaths. These figures do not include an additional 2.6 million babies who are stillborn. Moreover, three out of every four newborn deaths occur in South Asia and the Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a critical shortage of skilled health workers, including nurses and doctors. Most newborn deaths are preventable with specialized care that only skilled nurses or midwives can provide.
Thus, Bardai, an alumna of the AKU School of Nursing and Midwifery (SONAM), strives to reduce newborn deaths and provides counselling to those parents who have lost babies. She also supports mothers of sick babies, providing guidance on breastfeeding and teaching them how to use Kangaroo Mother Care to keep their babies warm and maintain a proper body temperature.
Commenting on her achievement, AKU-SONAM Dean Dr Keith Cash said, “This is fantastic recognition for nurses who provide essential care in countries with a great need. At SONAM, we are committed to educating nurses and midwives who can make a difference and our new degree in Midwifery, the first in South Asia, will further improve the excellent work done by neonatal nurses.”
“Many of the millions of newborn deaths that occur in Africa and South Asia can be prevented if the number of skilled health professionals is increased,” said Professor Joy Lawn, Director of MARCH at the London School of Hygiene &Tropical Medicine and a senior health advisor to Save the Children.
“Nurses like Christine, Anila and Netasyi show how it is possible to rewrite the statistics on newborn deaths with greater investment in training and basic equipment, plus a belief that newborns are not born to die,” he added.