Tanzania upgrades ventilation devices to save premature babies

Wednesday May 18 2022
A Vayu CPAP system, the newly upgraded CPAP device that supports breathing in premature newborns.

An illustration shows the use of a Vayu CPAP system, the newly upgraded CPAP device that supports breathing in premature newborns. PHOTO | BEATRICE MATERU | NMG


Tanzania has upgraded ventilation devices at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) to save more premature newborns suffering from respiratory distress.

The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices have been upgraded to pressurised oxygen ones for premature newborns.

Breathing support

CPA, is a type of respiratory support or non-invasive mechanical ventilation.

Speaking to The EastAfrican on Tuesday, Dr Martha Mkony, a neonatologist at MNH, said the hospital started using the traditional CPAP system in 2013 to help save lives of premature newborns with respiratory distress and related diseases.

“The new upgraded system, Vayu bubble CPAP, relates to our environment. They do not require electricity, compressed air or manual power,” she said.


According to medical statistics, respiratory distress is one of the leading causes of global child mortality. CPAP is an effective treatment but, “previous CPAP systems required electricity, compressed medical air and intensive biomedical engineering support,” Dr Mkony said.

Muhimbili, being a referral hospital, receives up to 200 newborns per week from various hospitals in different parts of the country, she said.

“Out of 200 newborns, one third could be premature with respiratory distress syndrome and other related diseases, and would require CPAP system to help them with breathing because their lungs may not be fully developed to support such body function,” | Dr Mkony explained.

In premature babies, she added, the CPAP system is delivered through a set of nasal prongs or through a small mask that fits snugly over the baby’s nose to offer non-invasive breathing support.

“Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) occurs when a baby is born prematurely before their lungs have fully developed. The lungs of these infants are deficient in surfactant, a slippery substance that enables smooth lung expansion and contraction. Without these surfactants, breathing becomes difficult,” the doctor said.


The new device, Vayu CPAP, is authorised for emergency use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and approved by Kenya's Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) and Tanzania Medicines and Medical Devices Authority (TMDA).

“Plans are to have this system in the Medical Store Department (MSD) so it can be accessed and used broadly, throughout the country, in all hospitals,” Dr Mkony said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), among 130 million babies born each year worldwide, approximately 15 million are born prematurely. More than 60 per cent of preterm births and 80 percent of the world’s 1.1 million deaths due to preterm birth complications occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Joyce John, who gave birth to a premature baby, said, “I gave birth to a premature baby, just at 32 weeks of my pregnancy, and we were required to stay for two weeks until my baby was mature enough to breathe and breastfeed on her own. I cannot stress enough how important these CPAP systems/machines are.”

Speaking at the fourth workshop themed “Every breath counts, support the little lungs”, Dr Felix Bundala, Coordinator for Child Health from the Ministry of Health, insisted on the need for medical experts to incorporate such developments into policy recommendations to the government.

He recommended that the new CPAP system be made available in all hospitals, especially those with 100 to 200 newborns per week, to help save more lives.

Dr Bundala added that since the new system does not require electricity, it can also be used in ambulances.

“There are times, a mother gives birth in a far distance from Muhimbili and the newborn requires medical attention...the process from notifying the hospital, calling an ambulance, assembling the team, getting to where the mother and newborn baby is can take more than 15 minutes. That is when several premature babies with RDS are lost,” he said, adding that the upgraded devices will come in handy such situations.