A Europe-wide push to improve care for premature babies: New study explores benefits of kangaroo care on reducing infections in NICUs

04 Jun, 2024

Padova, 3 June 2024 – A new European multicenter study, named NeoDeco, will investigate whether optimised kangaroo care can reduce infection rates in preterm babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Over the next two years, the study will include 24 NICUs in 5 European countries. It is sponsored by Fondazione Penta ETS (Padova, Italy) and conducted as part of the EU-funded NeoIPC project, coordinated by the University of Padova. 

Every year, around 400,000 babies in Europe are born preterm and require admission to a NICU. While neonatal intensive care greatly improves their chances of survival, it also exposes these vulnerable babies to antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the hospital environment. These bacteria can lead to severe infections, sepsis, and even outbreaks of disease, posing significant risks in the fragile NICU environment. 

For premature newborns, the World Health Organization recommends kangaroo care: a simple, safe and low-cost practice that involves prolonged skin-to-skin contact between the baby and their caregiver. Kangaroo care is thought to help babies acquire more healthy bacteria, which can boost the development of their immune systems. 

Despite its benefits, the broader impact of kangaroo care on preventing transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reducing NICU infections is still underexplored. “Comprehensive studies on the effects of kangaroo care on neonatal infections caused by difficult to treat bacteria at NICU-wide level are currently lacking”, notes Julia Bielicki, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Neonatal and Paediatric Infection of St George’s, University of London (United Kingdom) and NeoDeco Chief Investigator. 

NeoDeco’s objectives extend beyond examining kangaroo care’s impact on individual babies. Our focus is to evaluate its potential as an infection prevention and control measure, when applied to most babies in an optimal and sustainable manner by NICUs“, Bielicki adds. 

“Optimised” kangaroo care is defined as early, repeated and sustained skin-to-skin contact, following international best practice recommendations. While some European NICUs already practice kangaroo care, the extent of its implementation varies widely in terms of how early, how often, and how long it is practiced. 

To ensure that NICUs adhere to the optimal levels of kangaroo care required by the study, a team of implementation scientists from the University of Zurich will provide tailored site-level support, developing and tracking various implementation strategies. 

Lauren Clack, Professor of Implementation Science in Health Care at the University of Zurich (Switzerland) and head of the implementation science team, explains: “Kangaroo care is a behavioural intervention, and as such it comes with its own set of challenges, such as beliefs or preferences of both parents and healthcare professionals. Our team will work closely with NICU staff to identify barriers to its optimal adoption and develop strategies together to effectively overcome them.” 

“If successful, NeoDeco will not only contribute to validate the health benefits of kangaroo care but could also establish a new standard of care to improve preterm birth outcomes across Europe, ensuring a healthier start for this vulnerable population”, states Carlo Giaquinto, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Padova (Italy), and President of Fondazione Penta ETS. 

NeoDeco will begin in June 2024 for an initial group of NICUs from Greece and Switzerland. Neonatal units from Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom will start the study procedures in the second half of 2024. The study will run for two years and results will be available in 2026. 

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Notes for editors

About NeoIPC   

NeoIPC is a project led by the University of Padova (Italy) that seeks to foster infection prevention and control research and implementation in the high-risk setting of neonatal intensive care. NeoIPC will achieve this through engaging units in an innovative approach towards the evaluation and implementation of IPC measures to reduce resistant bacterial infection in this setting.  For more information, visit https://neoipc.org/

NeoIPC has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 965328. The contents of this press release are the sole responsibility of NeoIPC and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union. 

Project partners are: Fondazione Penta ETS, Italy; Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy; St George’s, University of London, United Kingdom; Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands; European Clinical Research Alliance for Infectious Diseases, The Netherlands; Universität Zürich, Switzerland; Universitäts-Kinderspital beider Basel, Switzerland; Tartu Ulikool, Estonia; Schweizerisches Tropen und Public Health Institut, Switzerland; Aristotelio Panepistimio Thessalonikis, Greece; Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium; Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany; Osakidetza – Servicio Vasco de Salud, Spain; Stellenbosch University, South Africa. 

About NeoDeco 

NeoDeco is a pragmatic, multicenter, parallel group, cluster randomised hybrid effectiveness-implementation study with baseline assessment, wash-in period and staggered randomisation. It is sponsored by Fondazione Penta ETS, Italy. NICUs that will take part in the study are: 

  • Greece: Hippokration Hospital, Thessaloniki; Papageorgiou Hospital, Thessaloniki; University Hospital of Heraklion; University General Hospital Attikon, Athens; University General Hospital of Patras; Aglaia Kyriakou Children’s Hospital, Athens; Ioannina University Hospital, Ioannina 
  • Italy: Azienda Ospedaliera di Padova; Ospedale Universitario Policlinico Paolo Giaccone, Palermo; ASST Grande Ospedale Metropolitano Niguarda, Milano; Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria di Modena 
  • Spain: Hospital General Universitario Alicante; Hospital Universitario Cruces; Hospital Materno-Infantil del Hospital Universitario Regional de Málaga 
  • Switzerland: University Children’s Hospital Basel; Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève; Children’s Hospital of Eastern Switzerland, St.Gallen; University Hospital of Bern; Universitätsspital Zürich – University Hospital Zurich
  • United Kingdom: Birmingham Heartlands Hospital; St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester; Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; Southmead Hospital, North Bristol NHS Trust; St George’s, University of London 

For more information, visit https://neoipc.org/neodeco/

About Penta   

Penta is an international independent scientific network devoted to advancing research on optimising the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases in children, globally. More than 30 years since its creation, Penta is today one of the most prominent scientific organisations dedicated to research on maternal and childhood infections, such as HIV and viral infections, fungal infections, respiratory infections, and severe bacterial infections. www.penta-id.org   

Contact information

For media inquiries and further information, please contact Francesca Mazzetto, Penta Senior Communications Manager, francesca.mazzetto@pentafoundation.org