By Chrysula Winegar
No country escapes the impact of premature birth, and very few families in the world are untouched. Whether it’s your own child, or children of extended family and friends, its reach is staggering and its affects often devastating. Regular readers will recall my own brother was born too soon more than 40 years ago. At a time when neo-natal technology was nothing like it is now, he was a lucky miracle. Born at somewhere between 26-27 weeks and weighing about 1.5lbs (0.68kg), he has had a lifetime of upper respiratory challenges. I still marvel at his strength and will. He’s a cattle farmer, a father of three and there’s little he can’t do.
15 million babies are born are born prematurely every year all over the world—1 million of them don’t make it. Countless other millions are left with physical and mental challenges. The social and emotional impact is obvious, and the financial implications are vast, but there’s a lot we can do.
Not All Premature Births Are Alike
85 percent of babies born early —12.6 million— occur between 32 and 37 weeks. Almost 500,000 of these children are born in the USA, where their chances are high. Children born in other countries are not as fortunate. As Joy Lawn, M.D., PhD., of Save the Children says, “These babies are born too soon, but they are not born to die—their deaths are utterly preventable.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is helping lead the charge: “We know what it takes to address the challenge of prematurity and we are committed to bringing partners together behind proven, affordable solutions,” He launched The Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health in 2010, supported by Every Woman Every Child, an umbrella movement that has already leveraged more than $20 billion in new money and aims to save the lives of 16 million by 2015.
This World Prematurity Day, Saturday November 17th, the world is acting to raise awareness of critical, and often low-tech solutions for the care of premature infants. Dr. Lawn continues, “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.”
Solutions like Kangaroo Mother Care and wider training in the use of steroids for example. Kangaroo Mother Care, or swaddling the child snugly against its mother’s bare skin and wrapping both, has been revolutionary. It started as a solution for overcrowded nurseries in Colombia where tiny infants had to share incubators. Studies show that the odds of survival for a baby in Kangaroo Mother Care can be the same or better than that for babies in incubators. It’s been slow to catch on, despite demonstrated effectiveness. Education and training of both health providers and mothers is key.
In the developed world, ante-natal steroids are cheap and routine for women in preterm labor. It speeds up the development the infant’s lungs and other organs in preparation for birth if premature labor can’t be slowed. “The use of steroids should be part of the ‘to do’ list of everyone looking after women in pregnancy. It should be written on hospital walls,” says Dr. Lawn. “In America or Europe, if a woman in preterm labor were not given steroid injections and suffered life-altering injuries as a result of medical negligence, the doctor could be sued for malpractice, as this is the standard of care. Why should a woman in Africa or Asia not get the same care, especially given the low cost?”
It’s estimated that widespread use of these two solutions would save 950,000 babies each year.
To share. To raise awareness. To support organizations we care about and those we love who have been affected by premature birth.
The Take Action Challenge
1) Sign the petitions to light the White House purple (closing today with fewer than 3,000 signatures to go!)
2) Share your own stories, photos and videos at www.Facebook.com/worldprematurityday
3) Join a global twitter chat at 3pm EST today with the hashtag #worldprematurityday that we are thrilled to be a part of
Photo: Genna Naccache/Save the Children
In the photo: Elvira, 29, with her premature baby Alice at the hospital in Petrolina, Brazil. Elvira was 8-months-pregnant when she got preeclampsia and gave birth to Alice. She was born weighing 2.99lbs (1.36kg). Elvira was shown at the hospital how to practice Kangaroo Mother Care method with her newborn baby. Thanks to this method Alice now weighs 4.07lbs (1.85kg) and will soon be discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home.