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Prematurity Awareness: One in ten babies born too soon!

Prematurity Awareness: One in ten  babies born too soon!

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The month of November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and the world lights up purple for preemies who have made it, as well as in remembrance of those who have not, in a global effort to raise awareness on November 17 each year, World Prematurity Day.

Preterm birth is a global problem. For every 10 babies born worldwide, 1 comes into the world too soon (before 37 weeks of gestation), according to the World Health Organization. Some 15 million babies are born prematurely globally and this number is said to be rising.

A premature baby may or may not survive depending on how preterm (gestational age) that baby is, or what complications may arise because of early arrival. There are many who fight through and lead very normal lives, and some make it, but with long-term complications. Many preterm babies who can survive, however still do not make it, simply because they do not receive the right care, at the right time, in the right place.

As mentioned earlier, the premature baby is at an increased risk for many health complications due to being born too soon. One such medical complication is a hernia. The infant, being underdeveloped, can’t support the pressure of crying, coughing, defecating, etc., and this increases the risk of hernias. Umbilical and inguinal hernias occur with most frequency in preterm babies.

Studies show that neurological disabilities are more prevalent with premature birth. Half of all neurological disabilities in children are associated with preterm birth. Parents of these children usually have to deal with language disorders, learning disabilities, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy (CP) and mental retardation.

There are many factors that can increase the risk of preterm birth. Among them are pre-eclampsia, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fertility treatment, ethnicity, mother’s age and certain lifestyle and environmental factors. Nearly 40% of preterm births however have no known cause.

Lately, due to advances in the field of medicine, approximately 90% of premature babies who weigh 800 grams or more (a little less than 2 pounds), receiving optimal care, survive. Those babies who weigh more than 500 grams (a little more than 1 pound) stand a 40% chance of survival. The chances of long-term complications however are greater in that group.

Prematurity Awareness Month is a key moment to focus global attention on the leading cause of child deaths under the age of 5: complications of preterm birth.

Dr Rosmond Adams, MD; MSc (Public Health); M.S (Bioethics) is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics and Research Methods.

He is the Head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

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