Windhoek — Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, genetics, as well as pregnancies spaced too closely together are all factors that contribute to pre-term births.
This is contained in a new report issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled 'Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Pre-term Birth' last Wednesday, suggesting that more than one million pre-term babies die shortly after birth.
Pre-term birth refers to the birth of a baby before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. In the southern African region, Namibia is listed in 100th position, followed by Swaziland at 111 and Botswana at 103 amongst 193 countries.
Countries which are a matter of concern in the region with regard to pre-term births are Mozambique (17th position), Angola (19th), South Africa (28th), Zambia (32nd), Zimbabwe (49th), and Lesotho (83rd). Despite listing the factors contributing to pre-term births, the report stated that little is known about the interplay of these and other environmental and social factors.
Other factors contributing to pre-term births, including a prior history of pre-term birth, have been identified as maternal age (either under 17 or over 40), genetics and multi-fetal pregnancy (twins, triplets and higher).
According to the report, babies who survive pre-term birth also suffer some type of lifelong physical, neurological or educational disability, often at great cost to families and society.
Even babies born a few weeks too soon are more likely to be re-hospitalised or to have breathing problems or other illnesses. It further stated that spotlighting pre-term births may help many low-income countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, to achieve United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goal Four, which is the two-thirds reduction in young child deaths and Goal Five which is improved maternal health, by 2015.
"These goals were set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. Nearly all high-income developed countries have already met these goals," the WHO report noted.
Pre-term births are divided into two categories: those that are spontaneous from the early onset of labour, or a premature rupture of the membranes and those that are provider-induced.
Provider-induced early deliveries may occur when the health of the mother or foetus is in jeopardy, such as in pre-eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy); for the convenience of the doctor, midwife or mother or by an error in due dates.
The report called for a strong research programme to identify risk factors clearly and to understand how their interactions may lead to pre-term births, in order that more definitive ways can be found to screen and treat women at risk. The report represented almost 40 UN agencies, universities and organisations.