By Judith Robb-McCord
Today is World Prematurity Day, and this morning I happened to meet a young American family whose son was born eight weeks premature. After six weeks in the hospital, he was sent home where he continued to thrive under his family’s care. Now four months old, he is healthy and bright. Seeing him and the joy he brings to his parents made me think of the millions of families around the world whose preterm babies don’t get the care they need to survive and thrive.
Prematurity is the leading cause of death among children under five around the world, and a leading cause of disability and ill health later in life. The majority of preterm babies are born between 32 and 37 weeks and do not need intensive care to survive. In fact, many could be saved with simple, essential newborn care such as drying, warming, and immediate and exclusive breastfeeding. Other low-tech, specialized care like keeping babies warm with skin-to-skin contact, support for breathing and feeding, and the management of infections can also improve outcomes for babies born too soon.
The Every Preemie project works with global and country partners to turn the tide on preterm birth.
Through an award from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Every Preemie is catalyzing action for the prevention and management of preterm birth in 23 priority countries primarily in Asia and Africa.
Today on World Prematurity Day we are releasing country profiles that highlight current national-level information on the status of preterm birth and low birth weight in those 23 countries. The profiles also include data on related risk factors, coverage of important maternal and newborn care services, and information about the health workforce and select health policies.
As the global community takes action on the new Sustainable Development Goals, we are reminded again how important human health is to national prosperity. To reach the new target to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five, preterm birth must take center stage. These profiles will serve as an important rallying cry for country partners to ignite dialogue and catalyze action around preterm birth and low birth weight within maternal and newborn health programming. The data can be used to identify risk factors and gaps, and to prioritize interventions for improved preterm birth outcomes.
Much is already being done to prevent preterm birth and to improve the survival of preemies. To turn the tide on preterm birth, we need action across the spectrum of care from prevention, to pregnancy, labor and delivery, and immediate and on-going care of preterm babies. Government leaders, civil society groups, health workers, communities and families must come together to enact change.
With information and resources, public and private sector partners can work together globally and at the country level to ignite meaningful change bringing hope to millions of families whose babies are born too soon.
Judith Robb-McCord is the director of PCI’s Every Preemie — SCALE program funded through USAID. Judith has twenty years of international public health experience with a focus on maternal, newborn and child health. She worked with USAID in Kenya, Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire and Ethiopia. Judith was the director of Jhpiego’s Maternal & Neonatal Health Program; and was the regional director of PATH’s Malaria Control and Evaluation Program Learning Community in Africa. Learn more about PCI at www.PCIGlobal.org.