Prematurity a leading cause of infant deaths

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Helvy Shaanika

Oshakati-Prematurity is the leading cause of death among children under the age of five. This was said during Namibia’s first commemoration of World Prematurity Day at Oshakati Intermediate Hospital on Friday.
Oshakati West Constituency Councillor Johannes Andreas said out of 15 million babies born every year, at least one million die as a result of premature birth.

In Namibia too many infants lose their lives as they were born before the complete pregnancy term of nine months.
It is for that reason Oshana Region commemorated the day under a theme ‘Saving Premature Babies Through Kangaroo Mother Care’.

Kangaroo Mother Care is a method of care practiced on babies, usually born on a pre-term, where the infant is held skin-to-skin with its mother, father, or substitute caregiver.

Studies show that skin-to-skin holding stabilises the heart and respiratory rates, improves oxygen saturation rates, better regulates an infant’s body temperature and conserves a baby’s calories.
Kangaroo Mother Care was thus found to be very effective in many ways when it comes to the growth of the baby.

According to Oshana regional health director Johanna Haimene, the public is still not aware of the scale of the problem and the risks involved in preterm births, despite of the high numbers of premature infants born.
“November 17, I learned was designated a few years ago as World Prematurity Day by a group of parents in Europe, who wanted to create awareness for preterm children and their families. It has gained momentum and became a worldwide awareness event over the past eight years.

“This day aims to raise awareness on the challenges of preterm [birth] and to make a difference for preterm families. It aims at encouraging research into the cause of prematurity and improve quality care and treatment for these children,” Haimene said.

Teenage pregnancy, maternal infections, maternal medical illnesses, multiple pregnancy, previous preterm baby, stress and substance-use are the noted common causes of premature births.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that premature babies can be saved if mothers get quality early antenatal care and when in labour trained health workers give adequate care.

Babies born before the full birth term also need Kangaroo Mother Care, good nutrition from exclusive breastfeeding, as well as assistance from trained health workers to help the baby breathe.

Infections to new-borns also need to be prevented by employing good hygiene that includes regular hand washing and when they occur such infections need to be treated with antibiotics as early as possible.

At present, there are about 60 mothers nursing their preterm babies in Oshakati Hospital.
Mothers who delivered premature babies in the past also attended the event, gave their testimonies, and encouraged other mothers that preterm babies can indeed survive and lead normal and healthy lives if they are cared for at an early stage.

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