Producing premature babies continues to trouble the world, with African countries including those in the East African region hit hardest. According to research, almost 350,000 African children die from preterm birth complications. Every year around 40,500 Rwandan babies are born preterm.
A premature birth is a birth that takes place more than three weeks before the baby is due — in other words, after less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, which usually lasts about 40 weeks.
For the first time in history, the complications of preterm birth outrank all other causes as the world’s number one killer of young children.
Of the estimated 6.3 million deaths of children under the age of five in 2013 worldwide, complications from preterm births accounted for nearly 1.1 million deaths, according to new findings.
Rwanda is among countries that are prone to this problem. However, the government has stepped up new measures to curb the number of deaths from it.
Dr Agnes Binagwaho, the Rwandan health minister believes that the premature deaths can be reduced if new measures are put in place. She told a conference of health experts in Kigali conference to focus on rolling out the use of Kangaroo mother care in all health-centres across the country as a best approach to prevent the death of children. “We are looking at Kangaroo mother care among the best approaches we can use to prevent the death of children. We support it and we are considering discovering more about this method and we shall embark on rolling it out in across the country,” she said.
The meeting of world health experts convened to strategize the best approach to curb the challenge.
Direct complications from preterm births globally accounted for 965,000 deaths during the first 28 days of life, with an additional 125,000 deaths between the ages of one month and five years according to research. Other main causes for young child deaths include pneumonia, which killed 935,000 children under-five, and childbirth complications, which caused 720,000 deaths 662,000 in the neonatal period, most on the first day of life, and 58,000 in the post-neonatal period. The highest rates of preterm birth are in Southern and Eastern Africa for example Malawi has the highest rate worldwide at 18% of all births being preterm.
The highest risk of death from preterm birth is in countries with the weakest health systems. Sierra Leone has the highest risk of a baby dying of preterm birth (16 per 1000 live births) based on data even before Ebola and will be higher now.
In exclusive interview with The Independent, Prof. Joy Lawn who is the director of Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive and Child health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said although Rwanda had made some good progress in reducing the child death, a lot needed to be done.
“Whilst Rwanda is now reducing child death at a much faster rate than any other African country, the progress for reducing deaths due to preterm is less than half that for other causes of child death especially infections,” she said. She added that for Rwanda to maintain progress on child survival and healthy development, more urgent attention on preterm birth and care of preterm babies is critical.
She mentioned that some of the causes of the preterm include pregnancy at older age, twins or multiple births, infections in the pregnancy, hypertension or a woman who is very thin or overweight.
“However there are also things we do not understand about why women go into preterm labour, and it is hoped that new investments in genetic and basic science research will help us to understand more and develop new solutions,” she said.
She said although it is not easy to prevent preterm birth, scientists know how to reduce the deaths of preterm babies.
“The gap is not knowledge but action,” she said, “About two-thirds of the 1.1 million babies who die of preterm birth every year could be saved without intensive care and the Every Newborn Action Plan lays out clear ways for countries and caregivers at change this situation.”
Groundbreaking research to discover why preterm births occur is now underway. These unprecedented efforts, backed by US$250 million in new funding, involve more than 200 researchers worldwide. They are expected to identify ways to prevent or alleviate this global health problem within three to five years. This would save countless infant lives. The countries with the highest numbers of deaths due to preterm birth each year are India (361,700), Nigeria (98,300), Pakistan (75,000), Democratic Republic of the Congo (40,700), China (37,200), Bangladesh (26,100), Indonesia (25,900), Ethiopia (24,500), Angola (16,000) and Kenya (13,400).
The findings disclosed in Kigali during the conference show that since 2000, the worldwide mortality rate of children under-five has declined dramatically from 76 to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013 which is an annual reduction rate of 3.9 percent.
Almost half of the overall reduction is a result of the massive progress made against deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, HIV and tetanus. In contrast, preterm mortality rates have declined at only 2.0 percent annually based on WHO global mortality rate for preterm birth in 2000 and 2013.
Source : The Independent