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By Maryanne Seabra
3 August 2023

Every parent, no matter where they are, wants their child to have a healthy start in life. But not too far from Australia, in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, mothers and fathers can face significant challenges to bring their little ones into the world. Geographical barriers, financial limitations, lack of proper nutrition and access to antenatal care, can make the birth experience a difficult one. 

But thanks to you, UNICEF is there with families and newborns in places like Vanuatu every step of the way

For healthier beginnings, no matter what 

In May 2023, UNICEF Australia teams visited Vanuatu to see an incredible maternal and newborn care program in action. Bethany Stirling, our International Programs Manager says: “Here in Vanuatu, I had the privilege to see how even the smallest contribution can help to give every child a chance to survive and thrive”. 

The Saving Lives, Spreading Smiles program aims to improve newborn outcomes in Vanuatu by empowering caregivers to provide quality newborn care, including a simple, low-cost and high-impact intervention known as kangaroo care

A flatlay of kangaroo care items including a beanie, socks and a rattle.
Kangaroo care kits items are chosen to keep premature babies warmer, and can mean the difference between life and death for newborn babies.
© UNICEF Australia/2023/Labade

As part of the program, in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu, UNICEF Australia is delivering 500 kits for low-birth weight or premature babies across the country. The kits include a blanket, towel, soap, beanie, socks, thermometer, amongst other items, designed to keep premature babies warmer and to create a long-lasting bond between them and their caregivers. 

UNICEF Australia and UNICEF Vanuatu teams preparing the items for distribution.
UNICEF Australia and UNICEF Vanuatu teams preparing the items for distribution.
© UNICEF Australia/2023/Mobbs

Skin-to-skin, a lifeline for premature babies 

Kangaroo care in action

Kangaroo care is a natural, effective, and low-cost intervention that can be utilised in any setting. In places like Vanuatu, it can be the difference between life and death for premature babies.  

Dr Annette, is one of the only three paediatricians across the country. She explains how this simple skin-to-skin technique not only create stronger bonds between parents and newborns, but it can also save lives.  

"Kangaroo care helps to reduce the morbidity and mortality of premature babies. We know that low-birth-weight babies are at a higher risk and can get very sick very fast, due to low body temperatures."

Dr Annette
A newborn in an incubator.© UNICEF Australia/2023/Mobbs

The skin-to-skin contact during kangaroo care, helps regulate the baby's body temperature and reduce stress. This helps prevent some of the leading causes of death in premature babies, including hypothermia, infections, sepsis and breathing problems. The benefits also include physiological and behavioural, pain and stress relief for preterm newborns.  

Doctor Caleb, a local paediatrician and kangaroo care enthusiast, highlighted how the practice can have outstanding life-saving outcomes and reduce the fatality rates by 20 to 40 per cent.  

A women holding her newborn baby in her arms.© UNICEF Australia/2023/Mobbs.

Baby Tyviana couldn't wait to come to this world and meet her mum Cendrella. Weighing only 840 grams, she was born almost two months before her due date.   

Cendrella has two other children, but this was the first time her baby was born preterm and admitted to the intensive care unit. Seeing her little girl in the incubator was not easy, but since the mother of three started practicing kangaroo care she feels more positive and connected with her baby.  

"I've seen a big difference in practicing kangaroo care and skin-to-skin, including a big weight change in my baby. I enjoy using the binder and it allows me to do other things too while she is up against me, and she feels comfortable too, she's not crying. It's helping me and my baby, now and in the future."


This program is only possible thanks to the support of our partners, like P&O Cruises Australia, who help us to strengthen health systems for essential newborn care in Vanuatu. 

Every dollar counts and your generosity is a lifeline. 

Help UNICEF continue to give every child in Vanuatu a healthy start in life. 

Help children across the Pacific Islands

By donating now, you can help children across the Pacific Islands grow to be healthy, educated and safe from harm.

A father holding up his baby.
© UNICEF/UN0822257/Shing

* Disclaimer: UNICEF does not endorse any company, brand, product or service