World Prematurity Day has become a hallmark day of celebration at Pelonomi Tertiary Hospital in recent years. This year the institution had more reason to celebrate after overcoming challenges including a strike at the maternity ward in July.
The day is celebrated on 17th November and aims to raise awareness regarding risk factors for prematurity, as well as the difficult road that parents and families walk following the birth of a preterm infant. To mark the occasion the provincial health department this week treated neonates and their mothers to a photo session as a tribute to the very special bond which exists between mother and child.
A need for awareness around prematurity
Spokesperson for Department of Health in Free State, Mondli Mvambi, said the institution takes the opportunity every year to honour the strength and courage of newborn babies and their mothers. In addition, the hospital aims to create awareness regarding prematurity in the community.
"At Pelonomi Tertiary Hospital, about 66 preterm babies are cared for in the neonatal high care unit per month. At times the medical team requires the services of allied health professionals, which includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work, dietetics, speech therapy and audiology," he said.
Earlier this year Health-e News reported that infant mortality rate at the Bloemfontein hospital is almost three times higher than the national average and that many of these deaths could have been avoided.
This came after DA politician Mariette Pittaway said the hospital's maternity ward had been plagued by severe staff shortages, lack of equipment and access to theatres in July.
Mvambi said told OurHealth that the situation at the hospital has changed for the better since then: "Our maternity ward at is doing an exceptionally good work to save the lives of mothers and babies that have no other options to care," he said.
Mvambi added that psycho-social services provided by the social work department are particularly valuable and that a holistic, multidisciplinary approach has proven to provide the best results in the care of the preterm infants.
Consistent skin-to-skin contact
"Once the infant is medically stable, they are transferred with their mother to the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit. During their stay in the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit, the goal is for the infant and mother to be together in skin-to-skin contact consistently throughout the day and night."
The practice is known to promote attachment, bonding, improved breastfeeding and weight gain. Mvambi explained that once the infant reaches 1700g, they may be discharged provided that the medical team is satisfied with the infant's condition. A medical team then monitors the growth and development of the baby the shortly after being discharged.
Mvambi said the World Prematurity Day is always a festive occasion at the hospital with many of the year's mothers and babies returning for the celebration. A guest speaker is always arranged to address the lodging mothers (who stay in the ward with their babies), visiting mothers, staff and members of management attending the event.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), premature birth is a serious health problem and is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. WHO says babies born too early may have more health issues than babies born on time and may face long-term health problems that affect the brain, the lungs, hearing or vision.
Prematurity is defined as the birth of a neonate with a gestational age under 37 weeks. Certain factors increase the risk of a premature birth such as obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug use, high blood pressure, diabetes, a pregnancy of twins, triplets or any multiples, problems with the mother's uterus, cervix or placenta and, sadly, limited access to prenatal care. Preterm babies are at a high risk of health complications such as hearing and/or vision problems, delays or disorders in the development of fine and gross motor skills, speech and language and social-emotional interaction.