Why we are still doing so many exchange blood transfusion for neonatal jaundice in Nigeria

Author(s): Owa JA, Ogunlesi TA


Background: Since exchange blood transfusion (EBT) is associated with serious complications, phototherapy has been made more powerful to reduce the need for EBT in the developed world. This study was undertaken to determine the indications for EBT in neonatal jaundice (NNJ) at our unit and what proportion of EBTs was possibly avoidable.

Methods: All the babies who had EBT for hyperbilirubinemia over a three-year period were included. Age, sex, weight, place of delivery, blood group of baby and mother, other investigations, management, and the outcome of the babies were recorded.

Results: Of the 1686 babies admitted to the neonatal unit, 90 (5.3%) had EBT. Fourteen (15.6%) were inborn while 76 (84.4%) were out-born babies. Fifty-six (62.2%) babies were admitted primarily for NNJ while 34 (37.8%) developed NNJ during admission. Thirty-six (40.0%) of the babies had phototherapy for more than 24 hours prior to EBT either because they were of very low birthweight or NNJ was detected very early and therapy was so commenced. Sixty-eight (75.6%) babies had single EBT while the remaining 22 (24.4%) had two sessions of EBT. Factors associated with severe NNJ in babies requiring EBT included low birthweight (<2500 g, 44.4%), ABO incompatibility (30.0%), glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (34.4%) and septicemia (26.1%). Twenty-seven (30.0%) of the neonates developed features of kernicterus: 26 before admission while 1 during admission; all except one were delivered outside the hospital.

Conclusions: The EBT rate in our center was high. With more effective phototherapy, EBT could be avoided in most of the babies who initially had phototherapy for more than 24 hours before EBT and repeated EBT sessions. Health education of the population at risk, especially pregnant women, and early referral at the primary health care level will reduce the burden of severe NNJ.

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