As the world on Wednesday marked this year’s Prematurity Day, experts have called for massive awareness on preterm babies, lamenting that over 800, 000 premature babies are born in Nigeria annually.
Speaking in Lagos at an event to mark the day, they urged the Nigerian government to include women and children in its free health services as a way of encouraging particularly pregnant women to attend antenatal clinics as well as deliver in health facilities.
Speaking, the Chief Operating Officer, Obijackson Children’s Hospital Okija, Dr Chinwe Muomalu, preterm babies are underreported but presently about 15,000 million are born globally annually.
Stating that preterm babies remain a challenge in Nigeria, she identified poverty and lack of awareness as major factors fuelling the problem, adding that, a lot of people don’t even understand what the challenges of preterm delivery is.
“If we want to reduce under-5 mortality in Nigeria, then we really need to look at the preterms because 30 percent of the under-5 mortality comes from that preterm breed.”
He stressed the need for every woman who is pregnant to attend antenatal care, in good places.
“Things like hypertension, diabetes, malaria, are common causes of babies coming out too soon, so if we are able to take care of these things, then I think somehow we will make an end road into preventing preterm babies.”
She further stressed the need for government to include mothers and children in free health services.
“If these mothers feel that it is being paid for, and their health challenge can be taken care of, they will come to hospitals more frequently, they will get the required care, and even if their babies come out preterm, they have that financial support that they need to take care of those babies, so, Government really does have a very big role to play, especially with health insurance.”
She said Studio24 is partnering with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, and 360 degrees to ensure adequate awareness about the challenges of preterm babies. “When we create awareness, there will be support from individuals because the government can’t do it alone, it’s really a big thing, we are looking at Nigeria as a whole and we are looking at the goals we want to achieve, so awareness is what is going to bring people to become part of the fight.
Speaking, the Purple Baby Project team leader / Chief Executive Officer, Studio24, Chris Oputa, who lamented that preterm babies are neglected in Nigeria, said the organisation is embarking on a journey to save lives and raise awareness for a cause they strongly believe was grossly neglected.
“We’re bent on ensuring awareness is created. Over the years, we have witnessed the dire rise of mortality in babies caused by lack of awareness, insufficient equipment, a lack of maintenance program for equipment in use, and knowledge on how to handle premature babies before transferring them to the hospital.”
He said to commemorate World Prematurity Day; they are launching the “Purple Baby Project”, to convert educational materials into a step-by-step audio and visual training resource for health professionals in caring/teaching expectant and newborn mothers.
He said the project would facilitate Equipment Maintenance Programme in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) across selected hospitals, starting with Lagos State, and spanning across Nigeria as well as arrest public attention by promoting content that inspires public awareness, engagement and goodwill for the Preterm New-Born and Vulnerable Baby Care in hospitals.
On her part, Consultant Paediatrician, Newborn Unit, of LUTH, Dr Beatrice Ezenwa who noted that the World Prematurity Day (WPD) is being celebrated annually on November 17 since 2009 to raise awareness of the burden of preterm birth globally and its associated challenges added that these babies are born before 37 completed weeks of gestation), lamenting that the number was on the increase.
“Now is about 1 in 10 children. Nigeria in view of its population carries a disproportionate burden; has the highest numbers of newborn deaths in Africa and the second highest in the world.”
She said prematurity was the leading cause of death in all children aged less than five years old. She said three-quarters of the deaths could be prevented with current, cost-effective interventions.
Noting that the theme of this year was “Zero Separation: Act Now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together”, Ezenwa stated that separation between parents and babies can cause severe and long-term health and developmental issues in newborns and it also affects parents’ mental health.
On challenges, she said preterm babies born before they are physically ready to face the world face greater risks of serious health problems, and because they are not ready for the challenges of survival outside the womb, they require assistance to cope.
“Some of the challenges they face include the inability to maintain temperature, feeding difficulties, breathing difficulties and need respiratory support equipment, inability to fight the invasion of their body systems by germs. They may also have exaggerated jaundice, which their liver cannot manage effectively, and their brains cannot tolerate among others.”
“Long term challenges include; after surviving the challenges of the immediate newborn period, they have chronic breathing problems and lung disease, cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment, learning and behavioural problems throughout childhood, vision and hearing problems recurrent hospitalization among others.
She stressed the need to [prevent preterm births where possible, improve healthcare systems, save babies’ lives and significantly reduce long-term consequences for children and their families.
Specifically, there is a need to improve early detection during pregnancy, identify high-risk pregnancies – mothers to have effective antenatal care. Preterm birth is better prevented through community education, better utilization of antenatal care services, she added.