Amref Health Africa warns that there will be no improvement in child survival if premature deaths are not addressed

Premature births must be addressedWORLD PREMATURITY DAY - NOVEMBER 17, 2014

As we observe World Prematurity Day 2014, it is a sobering reality that over one million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth.

About 15 million babies are born prematurely every year - more than one in 10 of all babies born around the world. A disproportionate 85 per cent of all preterm births occur in Africa and Asia, with the seven countries with the highest rates of preterm births being in Africa: Malawi, Comoros, Congo, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique and Gabon. Almost all countries with reliable data have recorded increasing preterm birth rates. Sadly, many of the babies that survive premature births face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems.

With the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) just around the corner, most countries in Africa have not been able to meet the fourth MDG – to reduce child mortality. It must be noted that no progress can be made in child survival and health if the issue of premature births is not addressed. In fact, prematurity is the world’s single biggest cause of newborn death, and the second leading cause of all child deaths, after pneumonia. Newborn deaths account for 40 per cent of all deaths among children under five years of age, which means that if prematurity were well managed, many newborn deaths would be averted.

Inequalities in survival rates around the world are stark: The risk of a neonatal death due to complications of preterm birth is at least 12 times higher for an African baby than for a European baby.

Half of the babies born at 24 weeks (four months early) survive in high-income countries, but half the babies born at 32 weeks (two months early) in low-income settings die due to a lack of feasible, cost-effective care including warmth, breastfeeding support and basic management of infections and breathing difficulties.

Ensuring the survival of preterm babies and their mothers requires sustained and significant financial and practical support. Over the last decade, some countries have halved deaths due to preterm birth by ensuring that frontline workers are skilled in the care of premature babies and improving supplies of life-saving commodities and equipment.

World Prematurity Day is observed annually to raise awareness of the concerns surrounding preterm babies and their families worldwide. On this third World Prematurity Day, Amref Health Africa renews its commitment to working hand in hand with governments, development partners and civil society organizations to:

  • Conduct research and explore innovations to inform and improve the quality and reach of  prematurity management programmes
  • Work hand in hand with the relevant regulatory bodies and training institutions to build skills of frontline health workers using innovative training approaches that do not take them away from their work for too long
  • Implement and advocate priority, evidence-based interventions including family planning strategies and provision of adolescent-friendly services, and prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and syphilis
  • Increase health education and health promotion among girls and women
  • Promote healthy nutrition including micronutrient fortification
  • Address lifestyle risks such as smoking, and environmental ones like indoor air pollution

Amref Health Africa realizes that governments are solely responsible for ensuring the right to health for their citizenry. Our role is to support the governments to meet this objective. To that extent, Amref Health Africa urges governments as well as their development partners to meet the following obligations for improving prematurity survival:

  1. Allocate adequate resources for family planning and increased empowerment of women and adolescents
  2. Improve quality of care before, between and during pregnancy to reduce preterm birth rates
  3. Ensure frontline workers are skilled in the care of premature babies and improve supplies of life-saving commodities and equipment
  4. Ensure universal access to comprehensive antenatal care, quality childbirth services and emergency obstetric and newborn care
  5. Invest in research addressing multiple biological, clinical, and social-behavioral risk factors associated with prematurity.

Essential newborn care is especially important for babies born preterm. To mark World Prematurity Day, Amref Health Africa will be supporting the County Government of Nairobi to train health workers on Essential Newborn Care from November 17-20, 2014. This will ensure that newborns, including those born prematurely, receive quality care that will enhance their chances of survival.

Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, 2012
Every Woman Every Child commitments to preterm birth

Jennifer Foulds
Director of Communications and Public Relations

Jennifer Foulds is the Director of Communications and Public Relations at AMREF Canada.

Want to interview an Amref Health Africa expert? Get in touch with our Director of Communications and PR, Jennifer Foulds.