World Prematurity Day is observed every year on November 17. It is one of the most significant events in a year, aiming to raise awareness of all kinds of challenges and burdens faced by people globally. EFCNI initiated the day in partnership with the European Parent Organizations in 2008. The international partners and co-founders for the World Prematurity Day - March of Dimes (USA), LittleBigSouls (Africa), and National Premmie Foundation (Australia), come together every year and celebrate this intercontinental movement. Countless people and organizations from over 100 countries join in with these parent organizations, participating in all the activities, events, and all the fun-filled actions catered to addressing preterm birth and improving the daily lives of preterm babies and their families/caretakers.
Approximately 15 million babies are born preterm every year, accounting for one in every 10 babies globally. Today, premature birth is a leading cause of death among children under the age of five. Urgent action must be taken to address preterm birth considering these first country-level statistics - 15 million babies are born too soon every year. This number is bound to increase in most countries today, considering the reliable time trend data. Preterm birth is posing greater risks and challenges even to the Millennium Development Goal for child survival since 2015. For all preterm babies who survive, there is an additional need to cater to the requirements of prematurity-related disability, which affects families and the healthcare system, globally.
The theme for World Prematurity Day
The global theme for World Prematurity Day 2021 is - Zero separation. Act Now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together.
The theme is chosen carefully since babies stay warm and cry less when closer to their mothers. Breastfeeding also helps get the baby a better start, and both mother and the baby get the opportunity to spend more time together, which begins at birth. This way, mothers can learn to recognize their preterm babies’ needs better and respond to those needs tenderly and lovingly. This connection then goes ahead to last a lifetime for both.
About Preterm Birth
Preterm Birth, also called premature birth, is the birth of a baby at 37 weeks or fewer in terms of gestational age, instead of full-term delivery at approximately 40 weeks. Extremely early preterm birth is before 32 weeks, while early preterm birth occurs between 32-36 weeks and late preterm birth happens between 34-36 weeks.
Preterm babies have greater risks of cerebral palsy, hearing problems, delays in development, and vision-related problems. The earlier the baby is born, the greater chance of developing such risks would be.
Causes of spontaneous preterm birth are usually unknown. The risk factors can include diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple gestations, being either obese or underweight, air pollution exposure, tobacco smoking, vaginal infection, and psychological stress.
Preterm birth is also one of the most common causes of death among infants globally.
Almost a million babies die every year because of complications related to preterm birth. Most survivors face a lifetime of visual and/or hearing difficulties, learning disabilities, and other disabilities. World Prematurity Day helps raise awareness about cost-effective interventions that help address all the issues. This even includes necessary care and support during childbirth and in the postnatal stage for both, mother and the child. This also includes antenatal steroid injections administered to pregnant women at risk of preterm labor. These injections also help strengthen the immune system and the lungs of the baby. Other interventions like these include providing antibiotics to the newborn to treat infections, and kangaroo mother care, where the mother is carrying the baby, offering comfort and warmth through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.
Understanding Global Burden On World Prematurity Day
Since over 60% of preterm births occur in South Asia and Africa, preterm births are a global problem. There is, however, a significant difference in the survival of premature babies, depending on where they take birth. Over 90% of extremely premature babies, i.e., less than 28 weeks born in low-income countries, die in the first few days of being born. Less than 10% of extremely premature babies die in high-income settings. World Prematurity Day is an important moment to reflect and commit to action, address all the inequities, and prevent avoidable mortality and other health issues caused by preterm birth.
Preventing Premature Births
There are plenty of measures to understand when it comes to preventing premature births. These measures are predominantly taken in areas of healthcare and lifestyle changes before planning pregnancy to decrease any risk of preterm birth.
Preconception and maternal care
Comprehensive advice for soon-to-be mothers and fathers is getting access to good quality preconception care. This is perhaps the most effective way to prevent pregnancy-related complications. It is essential to attend all health checkups and scheduled appointments to examine the mother and baby closely. During these visits, risk factors that can pose possible health threats for either the mother or the baby, or even both, can be identified, treated, and prevented.
During these visits, risk factors can be identified and mitigated to save lives. In order to ensure better care and health for the mother and the child during pregnancy, mothers should regularly visit their healthcare providers during the pregnancy period, even when they are anticipating pregnancy.
Lifestyle modifications like changing one’s habits, daily behavior, hobbies, and even the environment they live in can influence their health to get better. During pregnancy, this becomes extremely important since everything has an impact on the survival of the unborn baby. Considering this, it is extremely important for soon-to-be parents to understand and think about their daily lives, how it can affect their unborn child and what can be done and changed to ensure the baby gets the best in terms of care and nutrition from the very beginning. Care should also include that in terms of education and counseling of parents for better pregnancy care and later child care, optimal nutrition, physical activity, tobacco and substance abuse, and other essential healthcare factors.
Need For Treatment
Without any specialized treatment or plan of action, most at-risk newborns will not be able to survive their first few days of life. Since 2017, we have lost approximately 2.5 million preterm babies every year, mostly from causes that could have been prevented. At least two-thirds of such babies could be saved.
A handful of the babies who end up surviving face chronic diseases and developmental delays later in life. In addition to this, a million preterm babies end up surviving with long-term disabilities.
With the proper treatment, plan of action, and nurturing care, preterm babies can live their lives without any major complications. According to a report by WHO and UNICEF, by 2030, the lives of approximately 2.9 million women, newborns, and stillborns in over 80 countries can be saved if smarter strategies are implemented. For instance, if the same healthcare providers care for both the mother and the preterm baby through labor, birth, and after delivery, they can easily identify if any problems are setting in.
In addition to this, almost 68% of preterm deaths can be averted by 2030 by simply following a few strategies like exclusive breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby, intaking the right antibiotics and other medication, using essential medical equipment, access to clean water, well-equipped health facilities, skilled healthcare professionals and more. Other measures include resuscitating babies who cannot breathe properly, giving injections to the mothers to prevent any form of bleeding, delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord, etc. can also help save over a million lives each year.
As per reports, the world cannot reach global targets to achieve health for everyone unless they transform care for newborn babies and preterm babies. Without progressing in this field, we cannot meet the global targets. To save newborn babies and preterm babies, WHO and UNICEF, in their report, recommend:
- Offering round-the-clock inpatient care for preterm babies for a week or more, as needed
- Training healthcare professionals, especially nurses, to provide hands-on care working closely with families of preterm babies
- Harnessing the power of families, especially parents, by teaching them tips and tricks on becoming better caregivers for their preterm babies to reduce stress, help such babies gain weight, and allow the baby’s brain to develop properly
- Offering good quality care should be a part of every nation’s policy and a lifelong investment, especially in South Asia and Africa.
- Counting and tracking every single moment of a preterm baby, allowing parents and caregivers to monitor their progress and improve results if required
- Allocating essential resources and funds that help save lives of multiple preterms, especially in low and middle-income countries.
Almost thirty years ago, the Convention on the Rights of the Child guaranteed all preterm babies and newborns the right to the highest health standards, healthcare, and specialized treatment. It is time for countries around the globe to ensure the legislative, medical, human, and financial resources are allocated well in place to turn this right into a reality for every single child. This World Prematurity Day, let’s pledge to support the care and protection of preterm babies everywhere. Support the light purple color this year; you could be making a difference in someone’s life!
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