ISLAMABAD: Every year, an estimated 15 million babies - one in 10 - are born before full-term of the pregnancy is completed; preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

The global community this year on World Prematurity Day, is focusing on the theme ‘Together for Babies Born Too Soon - Caring For the Future’ as reports have suggested that 5 to 18pc births in most countries are premature.

Albeit, in Pakistan, collaborative efforts during the last five years have contributed towards reducing new born mortality from 55 to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births, loss of precious lives is unacceptable and a matter of national concern.

“Active involvement with long, direct periods of care and the physical and emotional closeness of baby and parents during birth, delivery and hospitalisation can have great benefits on the short and long-term health of the baby,” Aida Girma, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative in Pakistan has highlighted, adding: “Range of care during pregnancy, complete antenatal care, nutritious food, mental and psycho-social support to pregnant women and birth spacing can contribute to reduction in premature births.”

Quality treatment and care provided in a timely manner, by well-trained specialists contribute towards improving the health of hospitalised babies, she said, adding: “Provision of specific training and supportive supervision to advance skills and competencies, including safe use of Wash [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene] and IPC [Infection, Prevention and Control] facilities is extremely important.”

As challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic prevail, World Health Organisation (WHO) urges healthcare providers to enable mothers and infants to remain together and practice skin-to-skin contact, especially after birth whilst creating the bond for breastfeeding. This has been suggested despite either one is a suspected, probable or confirmed patient of Covid-19.

Unicef in collaboration with Ministry of National Health Services and provincial health departments, in this regard, has supported establishment of 17 Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) centres across the country, 11 in Punjab, three in Sindh, one in KP, one in AJK and one in the capital. Necessary equipment to help staff from the gynae and neonatology units has also been provided as KMCs are one of the best options to provide care for premature babies in low-income countries.

Quality and affordable Universal Health Care before, during and after childbirth for all women and babies can prevent several maternal and new born deaths.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2020

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