23 September 2016

Kenya: Preterm Birth Complications Leading Cause of Death Among Children Under-Five

Photo: Anders Kelto/PRI
(file photo)

Nairobi — An estimated 193,000 children in Kenya are born prematurely every year, Health Principal Secretary Dr Nicholas Muraguri has revealed.

The PS said that preterm birth complications were the leading cause of death among children under-five years of age and contributed close to one million deaths in the world in 2015.

Speaking during the official opening of a three-day Pre-term Birth Initiative (PTBi) Symposium in Nairobi, Muraguri explained that although child mortality rates had declined from 100,000 to 70,000, it was important to scale up interventions for addressing premature births.

He explained that research would help identify factors that lead to premature births in order to address them and save lives.

The PTBi Symposium is expected to come up with recommendations that can guide the current and future policies on improving the survival of preterm babies and contribute to better health and development.

Some of the leading causes of neonatal deaths are birth before 37 weeks of gestation, respiratory distress and infections.

"Three quarters of these deaths could be averted through current, cost effective and evidence based interventions," he said. "In Kenya, one in eight babies is born prematurely. This translates to about 22 babies every hour giving Kenya an estimated preterm birth rate of 12 percent," revealed the PS.

He further listed malnourishment, HIV, malaria, high blood pressure, liver infections, Sexually Transmitted Infections and multiple pregnancies as some of the factors that contribute to premature births.

He however explained that it was important to detect these risk factors in good time so as to prevent premature births.

Nevertheless, Kenya has adopted various initiatives to prevent deaths in premature babies.

These include Kangaroo Mother Care for preterm babies; use of chlorhexidine for cord care to prevent infections, early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The health ministry is also in the process of expanding access to free maternity services for women by incorporating pre and postnatal free care.

"We shall continue working with all stakeholders to strengthen the government's interventions in reducing maternal and child deaths. This will also tackle the wider challenges of improving the lives of women and children in Kenya," said Dr. Muraguri.

Today 10:23 am (17 minutes ago)

Professor Marleen Temmerman, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Aga Khan University Hospital and Chair of the PTBi Symposium added that Kenya was ranked position 15 in the world for preterm birth rates.

She revealed that every year 15 million children are 'born too soon' in the world.

According to Prof Temmerman, pre-term births remain the leading cause of death among new born babies in the Sub-Saharan region and the second cause of death in children under five.

"The major burden of preterm birth is in this part of the world and we have to do more research to see how we can deliver better," she said.

A full term pregnancy is 40 weeks while a premature birth occurs before 37 weeks.

Only 10 percent of children born before the 28th week survive in low income countries compared to 90 percent in high income countries.

Babies born too early may not be fully developed and can have serious health problems at birth.

While some of them lose their lives, others develop complications that can last a lifetime.

The risk of health problems is greatest for babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

The PTBi Symposium brings together policy makers and researchers from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the United States.

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