World Prematurity Day: Saving “Every Newborn” born too soon

In Bangladesh’s Tangail Medical College Hospital, Bithy Akhter anxiously waits as her daughter, Jannat, is treated at the Special Care Newborn Unit (SCANU). Jannat was delivered preterm at 33 weeks in a private clinic. After taking Jannant home, Bithy and her husband Amin Khan noticed she had started to look bluish and she wasn’t eating well. A Community Health Volunteer (CHV) had visited Bithy for regular check-ups throughout her pregnancy, so she was aware of danger signs. Bithy phoned the CHV worker who referred her to the hospital, where baby Jannat began treatment at the SCANU. Jannet, unlike so many other babies, is now receiving proper medical care and has an improved chance to survive.

Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing child mortality over the last few decades. Under-five mortality was halved between 1990 and 2015, but neonatal mortality rates are not declining fast enough. Neonatal deaths, due to prematurity and low birth-weight, account for more than two-thirds of all infant deaths and more than half of the deaths of children under 5. Two-thirds of these deaths occur within the first week of a child’s life, and most within the first 24 hours, often without any essential medical care.

A premature infant in an incubator.
UNICEF/BANA2015-00093/MawaThe Medical Assistant is putting cathedral to a premature baby to provide oxygen through nose at SCANU.

Evidence shows that implementing simple and low-cost interventions during delivery and in the vulnerable days and weeks after the birth can significantly reduce neonatal mortality, including deaths from preterm birth complications.

With the support of UNICEF, the Government of Bangladesh has set up the SCANU at Tangail Medical College Hospital, aiming to reduce newborn complications such as perinatal asphyxia, septicemia, prematurity, and other major causes of neonatal mortality. Radiant warmers and other equipment help newborns survive complications.

November 17 marks the 5th annual World Prematurity Day. In over 70 countries, NGOs, parent groups, and governments are highlighting awareness and action to prevent premature birth and save babies lives. For any newborn, their chance of survival depends on where they are born; babies born in emergency settings are even more vulnerable. Up to 75 per cent of preterm babies’ deaths are preventable with access to family planning, improving health before pregnancy and eliminating early elective births. Cost-effective, proven interventions also exist to minimize and treat preterm birth complications.

Bithy and Jannat have been lucky: preterm birth directly causes over 1 million child deaths globally. The Every Newborn movement is working to ensure every mother and every newborn have access to high-quality health care delivering healthy outcomes for premature and small babies.

UNICEF/BANA2015-00096/MawaA nurse gives updates of Jannat to her mother waiting outside the SCANU.

Jannat got necessary treatment because her mother knew what she needed to do thanks to the CHV. Evidence shows care with a qualified midwife can reduce preterm birth by nearly a quarter. Every Newborn wants every woman and every baby to have access to educated, regulated and enabled health workers, especially midwives or other skilled birth attendants.

In celebration of World Prematurity Day, the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in partnership with UNICEF, Save The Children and WHO, is hosting a workshop on Kangaroo Mother Care, one of the most effective preterm interventions. The workshop will explore ways to scale-up implementation of this life-saving practice. With the help of local media, the partners aim to raise public awareness and save more lives of babies born too soon.

To end preventable child deaths by 2030, we must focus attention on preterm birth—the leading cause of death for children under age 5. There are 15 million babies born preterm each year – and over 1 million deaths of children under 5 years from related complications. The solutions to prevent and treat preterm birth complications are known and cost-effective. Now is the time to scale-up quality care to all women and newborns so, like Bithy and Jannant, they can survive, thrive and transform society.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this story. It’s one I can really relate to, 11 months ago I delivered my twin babies at 32 weeks in Botswana. To say how anxious I was is an understatement, as I watched throughout the days my babies attached to so many wires and struggling to breathe. I know that If I didn’t have access to good medical care, most probably my babies would not have survived, so I count myself lucky. But I imagine that there are many mothers unlike me or Bithy, who simply may not have the opportunity to have their baby born in a SCANU or knowledge of kangaroo and other lifesaving practices. so, I’m really happy that this issue of prematurity is being given special attention.

    1. Dear Kutloano, thank you for sharing this moving personal story. Every mother and every baby born should have access to these simple lifesaving interventions. We hope that by focusing the spotlight on this we can make that a reality.