Deputy minister of health and social services Esther Muinjangue says 54% of newborn deaths in Namibia can be attributed to preterm birth and low birthweight.
Muinjangue was speaking at the commemoration of the World Premature Birth Day yesterday.
"That number is still too high. However, Namibia has been able to reduce its neonatal mortality rate from 32 out of 1 000 live births in 2000 to 24 out of 1 000 in 2006, and the current figure of 20 out of 1 000 live births," Muinjangue said.
She said premature-born infants who do survive could face a lifetime of disability or chronic illness.
"Premature babies are extremely sensitive and require the utmost dedication to their care and support during the neonatal period as their brain, lungs, heart, eyes, ears and stomach are not matured to adequately deal with life outside the womb," she said.
According to Muinjangue, the Ministry of Health and Social Services is actively involved in preparing the way for a better future for mother and child.
"We have committed our efforts towards the road map for the acceleration of maternal and newborn mortality reductions. First, the Millennium Development Goals, and now the Sustainable Development Goals," she said.
She said the ministry has also committed to the Early Newborn Action Plan and have initiated or supported essential newborn care training throughout the country.
Muiinjangue said the health ministry subsidises the training and studies of midwives at the University of Johannesburg, increasing the number of child specialist nurses in Namibia.
"Although the ministry is placing great effort in the care of newborns and premature newborns, it concentrates on prevention. The ministry will continue to improve family planning coverage to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and in so doing reduce the number of unsafe abortions, which add to the number of babies born too soon," she said.
The ministry has taken a proactive approach to enhance our pre-pregnancy and antenatal care services across the country.
Most preterm babies are born spontaneously, with common causes being multiple pregnancies, maternal infections or chronic conditions.
However, in some cases the cause cannot be identified.
This year's World Premature Birth Day is celebrated under the theme 'A Parent's Embrace, A Powerful Therapy, Enabling Skin-to-Skin Contact from the Moment of Birth'.
"The Ministry of Health and Social Services strives to encourage contact between mother and baby from the moment of birth," the deputy minister said.
She said despite the country's high neonatal and premature death rate, the ministry continues to work towards improved health outcomes for premature babies.
"Babies who we wish to see grow up to become valuable members of the community and society at large."