UN stresses benefit of low-cost care in saving newborns

2012-11-18 01:38:40 GMT2012-11-18 09:38:40(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

In commemoration of the World Prematurity Day, the United Nations on Saturday highlighted how effective and low-cost health care measures can help save the lives of millions of newborn babies.

"We know what it takes to address the challenge of prematurity and we are committed to bringing partners together behind proved, affordable solutions," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to mark the Day which fell on Saturday.

Premature babies are referred to as preemies. These babies are born prior to 37 weeks gestation.

According to the March of Dimes, 13 million babies are born prematurely each year. In the United States, that is one in every eight births. Some 1.1 million of the premature babies born this year will die. The remaining 12 million will struggle to survive.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), preterm birth is the world's largest killer of newborn babies, causing more than one million deaths each year. However, 75 percent could be saved without expensive, high technology care.

"Essential newborn care is especially important for babies born preterm," said the director of WHO's Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, Elizabeth Mason.

"This means keeping them warm, clean, and well-fed, and ensuring that babies who have difficulty breathing get immediate attention," she said.

Low-cost interventions that are not commonly used but are very effective include steroid injections that help speed up the development of the baby's lungs, kangaroo mother care which helps keep the baby warm and facilitates breastfeeding, and prescribing basic antibiotics, such as amoxicillin to treat pneumonia and other infections.

Prevention is also key, WHO said in a news release, stressing that countries work to decrease risk factors for mothers, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, infection, underweight, and pregnancies spaced too closely together, among others.

WHO and partners have also published Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, which presents the first country- by-country estimates of preterm births.

World Prematurity Day was started last year by the March of Dimes Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to improve the health of mothers and babies and was founded by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938 to combat polio.

To mark the Day, many countries were expected to announce commitments to reduce preterm mortality.

Malawi, which has the world's highest preterm birth rate, would institute kangaroo mother care and provide steroid injections in almost all hospitals, its health leaders said.

In India, the government has been working with the UN Children' s Fund (UNICEF) to outfit 100 hospitals to care for preterm babies.

In Uganda, the government has committed to speeding access to steroid injection.

The report also included 30 new commitments to the Every Woman Every Child initiative led by the secretary-general, on prevention of preterm birth and care of babies born too soon.

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