Originally published on Huffington Post
World Prematurity Day is a day to honor the mothers, grandmothers and young girls who have endured a premature birth.
It is a day that gives a voice to the one million lives lost too soon in 2013.
It is a day to support organizations working to eradicate preterm births.
It is a day to celebrate.
Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm. The rate of preterm births, or babies born before 37 weeks of gestation, is rising so rapidly that in 2013 it surpassed pneumonia as the leading cause of under-five mortality. Preterm birth is not a problem specific to one region, race, socioeconomic class, gender or sex. It is an issue that, if left unaddressed by all humans, will only continue to get worse.
So why should we celebrate?
To celebrate is to raise awareness, educate and understand. A baby born too soon is a tragedy for any woman to bear. It is only through increased awareness about family planning, political action, pre and post-natal care that we can save lives and support healthy families worldwide.
Family planning is an underutilized but successful and cost-effective prevention measure for premature births. When a woman can plan her pregnancies both her and her baby’s chance of survival increase. Causes of a preterm birth include substance abuse, lack of pre-natal care, unhealthy pre-pregnancy weight and pregnancies spaced too closely together. When a woman is able to plan her pregnancy, she can also plan her nutrition and occupational health to support a healthy, full-term birth.
Call On Policymakers
Policymakers play an important role in the access to healthcare facilities and the quality of care. Locally, writing letters to your elected officials can ignite the conversation within lawmaking bodies. Does your country have workplace policies that promote healthy pregnancies? Can you find the pre and post-natal care you need?
Globally, the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals need to have a proactive approach towards eliminating child mortality and supporting maternal health. Currently, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 relate specifically to child mortality and maternal health. But these goals are set to expire in 2015. It is imperative that the UN General Assembly hears from the young individuals impacted by these goals when setting the post-2015 agenda.
You can get involved on a global level by following and attending conferences that host cross-sector representation. For example, this October, Nigeria hosted its first National Newborn Health Conference called “Make Every Nigerian Count: Renew the momentum for newborn survival.” Over 300 participants from all sectors gathered to develop an action plan to reduce the newborn mortality rate in Nigeria. The result was the Nigerian Every Newborn Action Plan (NENAP), which is a focused version of the globally adopted Every Newborn Action Plan for Nigeria’s needs.
Care For Preterm Babies
Many organ systems, including the brain, lungs and liver, develop fully in the final three weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, when a baby is born after 37 weeks or less of gestation, comprehensive healthcare is a must.
There is a stark variation in the quality of care between the wealthiest and the poorest countries, but there are two fundamental ways to support a preterm baby in most healthcare environments:
Kangaroo Mother Care is a technique where the mother’s body serves as a human incubator. This natural approach has been slow to gain momentum but is proven to produce the same or better results than that for babies in standard incubators.
Additionally, steroid injections and antibiotics significantly reduce mortality in newborns. These methods are common practice in high-income settings but are extremely under-utilized in low-income areas.
Learn. Act. Save.
On this fourth annual World Prematurity Day, take action to support families facing preterm births. Learn about maternal health and child mortality in your community, and take action where you can. Everyone has a role to play in saving lives lost to0 soon.
How will you celebrate?
Cover photo credit: Maurice Frazer, Flickr Creative Commons