The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOH/SW) has disclosed that preterm birth Preterm Birth is the birth of a baby of less than 37 weeks gestational age. The cause of preterm birth is in many situations elusive and unknown; many factors appear to be associated with the development of preterm birth, making the reduction of preterm birth a challenging proposition.
According to Assistant Health Minister for Curative Services, Dr. Saye Dahn Baawo, about 35% of children who die under the age of five (5) years are newborns. Addressing reporters on Tuesday, November 20, 2012, Assistant Minister Baawo admitted that the percentage is a 'rising proportion.' His comments come few days following the celebration of the World Prematurity Day.
On Saturday, November 17, 2012, Liberia joined other countries around the world in observance of the World Prematurity Day. The celebration of the day worldwide has increased the momentum showing how countries can significantly reduce preterm births and take better care of babies born too soon. The MOH/SW official further disclosed that complications from prematurity account for 34% of these deaths, something he said, makes Preterm Birth the leading cause of newborn mortality.
Quoting the 2010 reports from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), he noted that Preterm Birth is the world's largest killer of babies. According to him, Preterm Birth causes over one million deaths across the world each year. Assistant Minister Baawo pointed out that Liberia ranks 83 out of 184 countries around the world for the number of babies born prematurely.
He stated that Liberia is also at 72 for the number of deaths due to complications from Preterm Birth.
"Preterm Birth or baby born too soon is the world's largest killer of babies causing more than 1 million deaths each year, yet 75% could be saved with high technology. Today in Liberia, 35% of children who die under the age of 5years are newborns, and this is a rising proportion. Preterm Birth is the leading cause of newborn mortality," he further stated. The government official continued: "Preterm babies do not need intensive, high-technology care. There are simple methods that really work and would save those hundreds of thousands lives. This is evident that late preterm babies, born between 32 and 37 weeks of pregnancy falling short of the normal 38 to 42 weeks. Out of the 21, 760 preterm babies born annually in Liberia, eighty-five percent or 18,340 fall into this category. Babies born between 32 and 37 weeks should be able to survive with access to simple and affordable care."
The government official indicated that cutting edge, cost effective and evidence-based" saving interventions must be taken to accelerate the reduction of newborn deaths, particularly for preterm babies. He named some of the interventions as providing regular checkups for pregnant women, ensuring that births take place in the hands of skilled health workers, breastfeeding as well as keeping babies warm and ensuring hygienic umbilical cord care, amongst others.
He assured that the Liberian government along with its partners will continue to strive to prevent preterm births and save premature babies.
Assistant Minister Baawo said the government through the MOH/SW is supporting the recruitment and training of qualified health workers, and skilled facility delivery. He furthered that government is also training community health workers on Home Based Maternal and Newborn Care to conduct visits during pregnancy and Post Partum periods.
He noted that the provision of immunization services in all health facilities to build babies' immunity remains a top priority of government in its health care delivery. He then pledged the government's commitment to fulfilling health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for children's survival.