Written by Naftali Mwaura
Health advocacy groups on Saturday urged countries to invest in simple and cost effective interventions including steroid injections, kangaroo mother care and antibiotics to reduce preterm births that are a leading cause of infant deaths.
A statement released by global health advocates during the World Premature Day on November 17, stated that more than one million babies succumb to death annually due to complications arising from premature births.
However, 75% of babies born prematurely can be saved through a range of affordable and user friendly interventions.
“People think that preterm babies need intensive, high-tech care, but we have simple methods that really work and would save hundreds of thousands of lives,” remarked Joy Lawn, a neonatal physician at the UK charity, Save the Children.
An estimated 15 million babies across the globe are born annually before the end of 37 weeks of pregnancy.
“These babies are born too soon, but they are not born to die. Their deaths are utterly preventable,” said Lawn.
During the World Premature Day, countries will renew commitment towards efforts that would minimize preterm births.
Families affected by premature births will use social media platforms to share stories, photos and videos and help propel a global movement advocating for greater attention towards this challenge.
The international community is behind efforts to enable countries scale up interventions that minimize premature births.
“We know what it takes to address the challenge of prematurity and we are committed to bringing partners together behind proven, affordable solutions,” Said the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon.
Both the rich and poor nations are grappling with a huge burden of preterm births.
According to the statement, India, China, Pakistan, Brazil, the United States Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are some of the countries with a huge burden of premature births.
There are low cost interventions that can effectively curb premature births yet countries have not used them optimally.
“Essential newborn care is especially important for babies born preterm,” remarked the Director of WHO Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent health, Elizabeth Mason.
She added,” This means keeping them warm, clean and well fed while ensuring that babies who have difficulty breathing get immediate attention”.
A steroid injection that cost one dollar when given to mothers in preterm labor helps speed up the development of babies` lungs and ward off respiratory distress to prevent 400,000 deaths annually.
Steroids have been widely used in high income countries to cover 95% of women in preterm labor.
In low and middle income countries, only 5% of women receive these steroid injections during preterm labor.
The statement noted that Kangaroo mother care is crucial to keep preterm babies warm and would prevent 450,000 deaths annually.
“Using an essential package of pregnancy, child birth and postnatal care that includes these interventions will save more than three quarters of preterm babies without intensive care,” said Carole Presern, the Director, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH).
Experts revealed that obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, genetics, multiple pregnancies and pregnancies spaced too closely are leading causes of premature births.
“We also know that poverty, lack of women`s education, malaria and HIV/Aids all have an impact on the pregnancy and health of the baby,” said Christopher Howson, the Vice President, Global Programs for the March of Dimes, an advocacy group.
He regretted that little is known about the interplay of environmental and social factors that worsen the challenge of preterm births.
“We need to know more and this knowledge could have a big impact in the lowest income countries,” Howson stressed.