Tag Archives: Preterm birth

Why We Need World Prematurity Day

One of the world’s greatest tragedies is when babies are born too soon. Every day a mother around the world experiences the heartache of delivering her baby before 37 weeks gestation whether she is walking on foot to a rural health facility in Bangladesh, delivering her baby in a hut in the lush countryside of Kenya, or rushing in a yellow cab to an award-winning hospital in New York City. All three of these mothers – seemingly a world away and cultures apart– are bound by the ubiquity of premature birth. In fact, 15 million babies are born premature each year. That is slightly more than the total population of Cambodia, if you can imagine that.

Premature birth does not choose its favorites and knows no borders. This is why, for women around the world, there is a singular day designated to honor them and pledges to raise awareness and solutions about the global problem of premature births.

Celebrated on November 17 each year, the third annual World Prematurity Day shines a much-needed spotlight on premature births to improve the birth circumstances for millions of women around the world who lose their babies or deliver babies who will experience severe disabilities or slow growth because they were not born full-term.

Premature deaths are the second largest killer of children under the age of five only resigning the backseat to pneumonia which the World Health Organization says takes the lives of 1.3 million children annually. A staggering 1.1 million children die from being born prematurely every year. Without consistent, global intervention premature births have the unfortunate potential of rapidly become the number one killer of children in the world, eclipsing pneumonia.

The global neonatal mortality rate is alarmingly high and yet data can never capture the true loss experienced by mothers and families. According to the March of Dimes a preterm baby dies every 30 seconds, but the loss is deeply personal. You can read stories about premature births on the World Prematurity Day Facebook page or share your own. And even for those babies who do not die from being born preterm their development is typically hampered like that of Allison’s son, a little boy I wrote about last year who is experiencing developmental delays because he was born at 26 weeks.

Why are babies born prematurely?

There are still many scientific question marks surrounding the causes of premature births. Some reasons include infections, diabetes, high blood pressure and genetics according to the groundbreaking report Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Births that was published in May by Save the Children, the March of Dimes, the World Health Organization and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health.  These aforementioned causes do not explain all reasons for premature births, to be sure. That is why additional funding and country commitments have been pledged to provide more detailed data in order to determine the root causes of premature births in order to prevent them.

While South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa see 60 percent of preterm births each year surprisingly the United States also has a high rate of preterm births although it is dropping significantly. The preterm birth rate in the US is at a decade low, 11.7 percent, according to the March of Dimes 2013 Premature Birth Report Card. While the number is decreasing the United States still received a “C” for its prematurity rate.

This World Prematurity Day stand in solidarity with those around the world who have been directly affected by a preterm birth and those who fight endlessly to make sure every  baby is born full-term.

Visit www.facebook.com/WorldPrematurityDay to get involved.

This article originally ran on Impatient Optimists

Bishoftu Hospital’s Maternity Ward

In Ethiopia 90% of all expectant mothers deliver their babies at home, but there are some who are referred by frontline health workers with a recommendation to deliver at a hospital. At Bishoftu hospital, a zone hospital that is located about an hour south of Addis Ababa on the sole road towards Djibouti , 200 women annually give birth at its facility.  As an Ethiopian government funded hospital with grants from USAID and implementing partners like Save the Children, all maternity services are free, including C-sections.

For normal deliveries, mothers will remain at Bishoftu for six to 24 hours. For C-sections they will remain at the facility for 2-3 days. In some instances where babies are born prematurely or have heavy complications, the babies must stay in the NICU. Admittedly, Bishoftu’s NICU is small and lacks in high tech tools and equipment. Below are cribs, but in the adjacent room there were attending nurses for the babies and equipment to keep them alive and warm.


Due to the limits of the NICU, Bishoftu hospital does have a Kangaroo Mother Care room where mothers can use the natural way of keeping their premature baby close in order for her to thrive. When we visited a mother was in the room with her tiny baby sitting snug on her chest.

Kangaroo Mother Care
One of the things about African hospitals is that when women come to deliver their babies they must bring their own bedding. Here is bedding hanging out to dry near the maternity ward.

Maternity ward bedding
As I walked through the sprawling hospital I was heartened to see that Bishoftu has ambulance service. Typically ambulance service in rural Africa are motorbikes, making getting to the hospital a long, hard, potentially life-threatening journey for pregnant women .

Ambulance Service - Bishoftu

Learn more about frontline health workers at Save the Children’s web site Every Beat Matters. Also, read about my first day in Ethiopia in My First Day in Ethiopia: An Army of Women Fight to Save Lives.

I am in Ethiopia as a guest of Save of the Children and their Every Beat Matters campaign to document  frontline health care workers and health programs in Ethiopia.

Photos: Jennifer James