Centre for Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive, and Child Health

Let them thrive! World Prematurity Day 2017

By Victoria Ponce, MARCH centre

Today, 17th November, is World Prematurity Day, a global event which aim is to increase awareness of premature birth, newborn health and the devastating impact that it can have on families. By supporting Every Newborn Action Plan, World Prematurity Day aims to stimulate international action towards the Sustainable Development Goal to end all preventable newborn and child deaths by 2030.

WHO defines prematurity or preterm birth as a baby being born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Many premature births happen spontaneously and without identifiable reason, however, some common causes are multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Every year, more than 1 in 10 babies, equivalent to approximately 15 million, are born prematurely. Of those, nearly 1 million die from preterm birth complications such as apnea, respiratory distress syndrome, jaundice, and intraventricular haemorrhage, making prematurity the leading cause of death in children under the age of five.

Babies who survive preterm birth are at increased risk of lifelong disability and can suffer from a range of health issues including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, cerebral palsy, asthma, vision and hearing loss, intestinal problems, and infections like pneumonia and meningitis.

Even though prematurity is a global problem, reports show stark inequalities in the global distribution of preterm deaths, with most of deaths concentrated in low and middle-income countries and more than half of all deaths occur in just three countries: India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The majority of these deaths could be prevented with provision of currently available cost-effective interventions aimed at increasing access to antenatal healthcare, improving provision of good quality midwife-led care, and increasing access to essential medicines, oxygen, Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), and health information. According to WHO’s recommendations for a positive pregnancy experience, investing in and promoting the midwife-led continuity of care, which provides care from the same midwife during pregnancy, birth and early parenting period, could reduce significantly the risk of preterm birth.

There is often stigma attached to preterm birth and babies, which can reduce care-seeking behaviours. In particular, fatalism – the idea that preterm babies are not as valuable as other babies, and that they won’t be able to survive even if they access care – can limit the impact of interventions aimed at prematurity. Interventions that raise awareness of the value of small and preterm babies and that promote the idea that they can survive and thrive with proper care can help to reduce fatalism and increase care-seeking behaviours.

A lack of respectful care during and after pregnancy and childbirth can also reduce care seeking behaviours during labour, increasing the risk of preterm birth complications. A minimum of eight antenatal contacts are recommended by the WHO to reduce perinatal mortality and preterm birth complications. To complete this, women must feel respected in their care, and health workers must be empowered to provide respectful care.

Prioritising investment in preterm birth prevention and care has many benefits for other areas of maternal and child health, and presents a solid case for economic investment. Investing in respectful and good quality preterm birth care and prevention can lead to improvements in maternal and newborn health as well as contributing to wider global development.

Show your support for this year’s World Prematurity Day by wearing purple, hanging a sock line, taking the KMC challenge, spreading the message, and by joining the conversation @worldprematurityday #worldprematurityday #LetThemThrive

Image Copyright: Bliss  – https://www.bliss.org.uk/

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