Preterm is defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. There are sub-categories of preterm birth, based on gestational age:
- extremely preterm (< 28 weeks)
- very preterm (28 to < 32 weeks)
- moderate to late preterm (32 to < 37 weeks).
An estimated 15 million babies are born too early every year. That is more than 1 in 10 babies. Almost 1 million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth. Preterm survivors often suffer from lifelong disabilities, such as visual and hearing impairments, chronic lung disease, long term cardiovascular ill health, learning difficulties and behavioral impairments.
Babies born too soon are between 6 and 26 times more likely to die during the first four weeks of their lives than babies born at term. Preterm birth complications account for a third (35%) of all the world’s 2.8 million newborn deaths worldwide, which makes prematurity the leading direct cause of newborn mortality.
And in almost all countries with reliable data, preterm birth rates are increasing. Despite declining global rates, newborn deaths represent a growing proportion of all under-five deaths. This highlights that progress has been slower in tackling mortality in the first four weeks of life (neonatal period) than reducing mortality in older babies and children.
Inequalities in survival rates around the world are stark. In low-income settings, as in most cases in Africa, half of the babies born at or below 32 weeks (2 months early) die due to a lack of feasible, cost-effective care, such as warmth, breastfeeding support, and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties. In high-income countries, almost all of these babies survive.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than three-quarters of premature babies can be saved with feasible, cost-effective care, e.g. essential care during childbirth and in the postnatal period for every mother and baby, antenatal steroid injections (given to pregnant women at risk of preterm labour and under set criteria to strengthen the babies’ lungs), kangaroo mother care (the baby is carried by the mother with skin-to-skin contact and frequent breastfeeding) and antibiotics to treat newborn infections.
To help reduce preterm birth rates women need improving care before, between and during pregnancies. Better access to contraceptives and increased empowerment could also help reduce preterm births.
The AFPNC Approach:
The AFPNC is working with partners and stakeholders to reduce the mortality rate in preterm birth in Africa.
- Awareness Campaign on the issues of preterm birth and health
- Raise funds to establish Neonatal Intensive Care Units and fund other projects
- Provide counseling for mothers and families of preterms before and after NICU
Credit: WHO, Mamaye!