Policy Reform to Address Rising Baby Abandonment in Nigeria

Study: 13.4m Premature Babies Were Born In 2020

According to a recently published study, an estimated 13.4 million babies were born before 37 full weeks of pregnancy in 2020, meaning that 1 in 10 babies worldwide were born premature.

The study published in the Lancet by authors from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine bemoaned the impact on health and survival, adding that, poor maternal health, malnutrition contribute to high numbers of preterm births.

The authors posited that that since prematurity is the leading cause of death in children’s early years, there was an urgent need to strengthen both care for preterm babies as well as prevention efforts, particularly, maternal health and nutrition to improve childhood survival.

“For those who live, preterm birth also significantly increases the likelihood of suffering major illnesses, disability and developmental delays, and even chronic diseases as adults like diabetes and heart conditions,” the study stated.

As with other major trends relating to maternal health, no region of the world has significantly reduced rates of preterm births over the last decade.

The annual global rate of reduction in preterm births between 2010 and 2020 was just 0.14 per cent.

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Reacting to the study, the Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at WHO, Dr Anshu Banerjee said: “Preterm babies are especially vulnerable to life-threatening health complications and they need special care and attention.

“These numbers show an urgent need for serious investment in services available to support them and their families as well as a greater focus on prevention in particular, ensuring access to quality health care before and during every pregnancy.”

The paper, National, regional, and Global Estimates of Preterm Birth in 2020, with Trends from 2010: A Systematic Analysis, provides global, regional and country estimates and trends for preterm births between 2010 and 2020, revealing large disparities between regions and countries.

According to the paper, around 65 per cent of preterm births in 2020 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, where over 13 per cent of babies were born preterm. The rates in the worst affected countries – Bangladesh (16.2 per cent), Malawi (14.5 per cent) and Pakistan (14.3 per cent) – are three or four times higher than those in the least affected countries – Serbia (3.8 per cent), Moldova (4 per cent) and Kazakhstan (4.7 per cent).

Preterm birth is not just an issue in low and middle-income countries, however, and the data shows clearly that it affects families in all parts of the world. Rates of 10 per cent or higher occur in some high-income countries such as Greece (11.6 per cent) and the United States of America (10 per cent).

Studies have revealed that maternal health risks such as adolescent pregnancy, infections, poor nutrition, and pre-eclampsia were closely linked to preterm births. The study also pointed out that quality antenatal care was vital in detecting and managing complications to ensure accurate pregnancy dating through early ultrasound scans and if needed, to delay labour through approved treatments.