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16 November 2012

Preterm birth an African killer

Preterm birth is the world's largest killer of babies, causing more than 1 million deaths each year, yet 75% could be saved without high technology care.

Preterm birth is the world's largest killer of babies, causing more than 1 million deaths each year, yet 75% could be saved without high technology care. In South Africa, more than 8 out of 100 babies are premature (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and we rank 24 out of 184 countries for number of newborn deaths due to complications from preterm birth.

Essential newborn care

  • Steroid injections. When given to mothers in preterm labour, dexamethosone, a steroid used to treat asthma, helps speed up the development of the baby’s lungs. At a cost of about US$1, two shots stop premature babies from going into respiratory distress when they are born and, in many cases, prevent death.
  • Kangaroo Mother Care. Using this technique, the tiny infant is placed skin-to-skin upright between the mother’s breasts and then tied to the mother's chest with a cloth. This keeps the preterm baby warm and facilitates breastfeeding. Keeping preterm babies warm is especially important because their tiny bodies lose heat rapidly, making them highly vulnerable to illness, infection and even death.
  • In addition, while all newborns are more vulnerable to life-threatening infection than older infants and children, preterm babies are especially at risk.  Good hygiene and care can help prevent these infections, and basic antibiotics to fight infections when they occur, can save lives.

 
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