A+ A-

Kangaroo Mother Care: UP’s low-tech solution is saving premature babies

Premature babies all over Africa and in developing countries around the world have a greater chance of survival today thanks to the work of University of Pretoria (UP) researchers. Drs Anne-Marie Bergh, Elise van Rooyen and colleagues have been tirelessly promoting the benefits of Kangaroo Mother Care for almost 20 years, training nurses and doctors in this low-tech solution that is saving premature and low birth-weight infants.

“Globally, 35% of neonatal deaths are due to conditions related to prematurity - problems with temperature control, breathing, and the cardiovascular system,” says Bergh, who oversees education aspects of public health projects for the SA MRC Unit for Maternal and Infant Healthcare Strategies at UP. “In our study, the introduction of Kangaroo Mother Care in South Africa was associated with a 30% reduction in neonatal mortality. It is now recommended by the World Health Organisation as a key intervention around the world.”

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) was originally developed in Colombia in 1979 as a solution to overcrowding in a neonatal unit in Bogotá, but was only taken up in other countries in the 90s after more than a decade of research. In essence, mothers and other caregivers are taught to carry their babies skin-to-skin, between the breasts, for 20 or more hours per day. This helps the baby maintain a regular temperature, enhances breastfeeding and dramatically improves a baby’s chance of survival.

In the absence of sophisticated care for small and sick newborns, KMC is a life-saving strategy for keeping the baby warm and reducing the chance of infection. Skin-to-skin care is also used worldwide to help premature babies bond with their parents. But that’s not all: Bergh says studies are starting to show the positive effects of KMC on long-term brain development.

Bergh and Van Rooyen first started working to implement KMC in South Africa in 1999. They started at Kalafong hospital in Pretoria where Van Rooyen heads the KMC unit, and over the next 10 years developed multimedia training materials, techniques and methods for sustainable implementation, as well as tools to evaluate the success of their efforts.

“When we started working with KMC, it was a new thing,” says Bergh. “Nobody knew how to implement it.”

Now, Bergh and Van Rooyen are world experts in getting KMC to work, regardless of the context. Since 2007, when they evaluated a project implementing KMC in Malawi, they have worked with African countries like Ghana, The Gambia, Mali and Rwanda (to name a few), as well as Asian countries like Indonesia, India and Bangladesh. This work, often in partnership with development agencies and ministries of health, either involves helping countries assess the needs of the country, implement a KMC programme, or review the success of such an implementation.

Bergh says that KMC is gaining ground globally as an important life-saving intervention in newborn care.

“Since 2014, the Every Newborn Action Plan has put its focus more strongly on initiatives to save premature and low birth-weight babies,” she says. “Each country has its own specialised plan, but KMC is in there as a key intervention - it’s been identified as high impact, life-saving, and cost-effective.”

In SA, KMC is in place in hospitals all over the country, and it forms part of the newborn care taught to new doctors and nurses. Bergh says that it might not always be implemented in the same way - the methods are designed to be adaptable to different situations, skill levels and institutions - but the outcome is the same: newborn lives are saved.

Left: The Kalafong thari is used to carry babies cared for using Kangaroo Mother Care babies all over the world. Right: Babies are carried skin-to-skin with their mothers or carers, to improve temperature control. Image credit Elise van Rooyen.

Privacy Policy

The University is firmly committed to protecting the privacy of users of the website. No personal information about users of this website will be disclosed to a third party without the prior consent thereto by the user. (Personal information shall at all times be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013).)

The University reserves the right to automatically collect information on users' usage of the website (for example, via cookies) in order to improve users' browsing and interaction with the University and for non-personal statistical purposes.

Changes to this privacy policy

The University reserves the right to change, amend, or update this privacy policy periodically.

Modifications to the website

The University reserves the right to modify, change, amend or discontinue the website (or any part thereof) temporarily or permanently, without prior notice.


The University may provide links to other websites or resources. This does not imply the University's endorsement of such sites. The University does not have any control over these websites and will, therefore, not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising from the utilisation of these websites by users.

The University does not prohibit third-party sites to link to publicly visible content on this website. However, it is expressly prohibited for any third party to frame any page on this website in any way whatsoever without the prior written approval of the University.

University of Pretoria proprietary rights

The copyright and other intellectual property rights (which include the University’s brand and logo), which are owned by or licensed to the University, existing in and attaching to this website, are the property of the University. These include but are not limited to text, content, design, layout, graphics, organisation, digital conversion and other information related to the website.

Users are granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable licence to:

  • access and use this website strictly in accordance with these terms;
  • use this website solely for personal, non-commercial purposes; and
  • download or print out or distribute content from the website, or any part thereof, solely for personal, non-commercial purposes, provided that all copyright and other intellectual property notices therein are unchanged.

Any reproduction of the content of this website, or a portion thereof, must include the following copyright notice: ©University of Pretoria. Users who wish to use the content from this website for commercial purposes may only do so with prior written permission from the University.


This website is for information purposes only. No representations or warranties are given by the University of Pretoria (hereafter referred to as the University) regarding the accuracy of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website. Any reliance by the user on any information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website, is at the user’s own risk and the University shall not be liable in any way whatsoever in respect of the user or any other person, directly or indirectly, arising from the utilisation of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website.

The user hereby agrees that in the event of any dispute arising from the utilisation of this website in any manner, form or substance whatsoever, the relevant South African law will apply and the appropriate courts of South Africa will have jurisdiction.

Terms & Conditions

By accessing this website, the user hereby agrees to the following:

The use of this website is at the user’s sole risk. This website is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis. The University gives no warranty that (i) the information posted on this website will meet the user’s requirements; (ii) the information posted on this website will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, virus free or error free; and (iii) the information posted on this website will be accurate or reliable.

Any material downloaded from or otherwise obtained through this website is utilised at the user’s own risk, and the user will, therefore, be liable for any and all damages of any nature whatsoever arising from such utilisation of the website.

Limitation of liability

The user expressly understands and agrees that the University shall not be liable for any damages (subject to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (Act 68 of 2008) (even if the University has been advised of the possibility of such damages) resulting from: (i) the use or the inability to use the website; (ii) the cost of procurement of substitute goods and services resulting from any data, information or services obtained or messages received or transactions entered into through the website; (iii) unauthorised access to or alteration of the user’s transmissions or data; (iv) statements or conduct of any third party on the website; or (v) any other matter relating to the website.