BYisrael: What’s normal percentage of NICU deaths?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Health secretary Dr Faith BYisrael –

THA Health Secretary Dr Faith BYisrael has said she is keen to find out whether the percentage of deaths of premature babies at the Port of Spain General Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for the past couple of months is consistent or there has been a spike.

At Wednesday’s THA Executive Council virtual media briefing, BYisrael said the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) investigation into the deaths of seven babies at the North West Regional Health Authority facility will reveal important details.

A three-member PAHO team arrived in Trinidad on Monday to probe a cluster of death at the NICU from April 4-9 involving a bacterial infection.

A class-action lawsuit has been initiated by the parents of 12 babies who died at the PoSGH NICU, some before the cluster.

BYisrael expressed condolences to the families involved.

“Any time a baby dies it’s a very sad moment for the family,” she said.

BYisrael said babies born before 35 weeks’ gestation have a number of challenges. She said key components of body functions have not developed, including the immune system, respiratory system and the digestive system.

Asked whether she could confirm that a Tobago baby had died at the PoSGH as one of the seven, BYisrael said a baby born in Tobago did die, but she could not say whether it was during the cluster.

She added, “Even though what we are seeing now seems to be large volumes of babies dying, because of the situation, with these babies not being fully developed, we actually do normally have instances where preemies just don’t make it, simply because they really were born way too early – 20-something weeks sometimes.

“As much as we try to provide the support to them, they simply don’t make it.”

BYisrael said she is interested in seeing the report from the PAHO investigation

“I am hoping part of the investigation would include us getting from the report a clear sense of how many babies were actually in the system, in the NICU, at that time, so we can really compare and determine whether the volume that we are talking about is actually an unusual high volume of deaths, or it is the normal percentage of babies that die because they were preemies, or just somehow the public is just more aware of these deaths.”

BYisrael said Tobago provides up to level-two B NICU care, but she is hoping to get that to level three.

Level-one care caters to babies born around 35 weeks who need minimal support.

Level two provides care for babies born around 32 weeks.

“That is what we have in Tobago. The level two B allows the nursery to do respiratory assistance. We can help them breathe for a little bit – less than a day or two. It would give us enough time to transfer the baby to Trinidad.”

She said, based on the baby’s needs, Tobago would contact the NICU at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope or PoSGH. The medical chief of staff would then arrange transport and a helicopter would transfer the baby to Trinidad.

BYisrael said there are two mobile incubators to allow the baby to breathe while being taken to Trinidad.

She said getting Tobago to NICU level three will not happen overnight.

“Until then, we will have to continue using the mechanisms, protocols that are in place to provide the best level of care that we can in Tobago.”

She said her division remains vigilant.

“Given what is being said in the media, I’ve asked my team to make sure all our infection control protocols are really in place and we are doing what we need to do.”