THE act of separating preterm or premature babies from their mothers soon after birth has been proven to have negative health implications on the growth and development of the child and in most cases a leading cause of death in preterm babies, an expert has said.
By Michael Gwarisa
Premature babies are babies are “born too soon” ,born before 37 weeks of gestation and according to global health statistics, preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five; each year, about 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely, that is about 1 in 10 children.
Speaking during the 2021 World Prematurity Day in Harare that ran under the theme, “Act now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together,” Dr Gwendoline Chimhini, Head of Pediatric Department at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital said Separation between parents and babies can cause severe and long-term health and developmental issues in newborns and it also affects parents’ mental health.
Therefore, we raise our voices on this year’s World Prematurity Day, uniting under the global call to “Act now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together”. Also, as we “Countdown to 2030”, all countries must accelerate their collective efforts to reduce/end preventable newborn deaths. This is especially important in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Central and Southern Asia where about 80% of the global neonatal deaths occur.
“Sub-Saharan Africa carries the highest of this burden, accounting for 42% of deaths, the highest premature birth rate of 12% and the highest deaths due to complications of prematurity. In Africa, the situation is compounded by a high birth rate and a slower annual rate of reduction in neonatal mortality rates. This would mean that without concerted efforts, almost 90% of countries in SSA will not meet the SDG target of reducing neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1000 live births by 2030,” said Dr Chimhini.
She added that Prematurity was the leading cause of death for children under 5years old in Zimbabwe.
“Today the Paediatric Association of Zimbabwe join the rest of the world in celebrating all premature babies who have made it. We salute the health workers and parents who have made this possible.”
The World Prematurity Day (WPD) has been celebrated annually on November 17 since 2009 and is used to raise awareness of the burden of preterm birth globally and its associated challenges.
“Preterm babies need a lot of support to enable them to live. They need a lot of support with breathing, feeding ,keeping themselves warm and free from infections. This brings a lot of stress to the families and health workers caring for these babies. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five; each year, about 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely, that is about 1 in 10 children.”
On WPD several countries, organisations and networks around the world engage in different activities and events to show a commitment to action on addressing the problems associated with preterm birth.
Meanwhile, Dr Marcia Mangizha, a pediatrician, neonatologist said Sally Mugabe Hsopital has a high buren of premature deaths.
“Because this is a central hospital, the biggest central hospital in the country, we have a high burden of prematurity. We take care of about 500 very low birth weight babies per year. So very low birth weight means you are born with a weight which is less than 1 500grams. That’s less than a 2 KG bag of sugar.so we have 500 of those babies who weigh less than a 2KG bag of sugar.it is quite a huge burden of prematurity in our unit.
“Like everywhere else, there are always challenges. When these babies come, they have challenges breathing because their lungs are premature. So fortunately, we have acquired some CPAP machines through government and through various donors which help these babies with breathing when they are born. But we need more of these machines to help these babies to breathe. And we also need more healthcare workers in order to take care of these babies because when they are born, they are so premature and they need a lot of care. So sometimes we actually need one nurse to take care of one baby,” said Dr Mangizha.
She added that they need more nurses in the neonatal unit to be able to take care of these preterm babies.
“We also need more monitors because they are very immature and they have a lot of complications, we need to be monitoring their oxygen levels at any time. We need to be monitoring their heartrate. We need more of these monitors in our units to be able to monitor these babies for them to survive. Those are some of the things we require.”