New Delhi: There were an estimated 13.4 million babies born preterm in 2020, with nearly one million babies succumbing to the preterm complications, according to Born too soon: Decade of action on preterm birth report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) together with The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH). The global preterm birth rate increased to 9.9 per cent in 2020, compared to 9.8 per cent in 2010.
Of the total estimated numbers, Southern Asia accounted for 13.2 per cent of the total babies born preterm in 2020, compared to fewer than 8 per cent of births in Eastern Asia, South Eastern Asia, Northern America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
The report stated that preterm birth rates have not changed in any region worldwide in the past decade (2010–2020), with 152 million babies ‘born too soon’. This means that every 2 seconds, a baby is born too soon, and every 40 seconds, one of those babies dies.
Preterm Births: India’s Status
Nearly 45 per cent of all preterm births in 2020 occurred in five countries, and India was one of them. The country has the highest number of estimated national preterm births in 2020 with 3.02 million, accounting for more than 23 per cent of all preterm births worldwide, followed by Pakistan, Nigeria, and China, each having more than three quarters of a million preterm babies in 2020.
Poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water affected the health of women and babies in India, the report found. Besides, women practising open defecation, as well as those without a place to wash their hands, were likely to experience poorer pregnancy outcomes than those with such access, the report added.
Risks Associated With Preterm Births
Preterm birth is the single largest killer of children under 5 years of age, accounting for more than one in three of all neonatal deaths, according to the report. The World Health Organisation (WHO) termed preterm birth the leading cause of child deaths, accounting for more than one in five of all deaths of children occurring below the age of five. The WHO added,
Preterm survivors can face lifelong health consequences, with an increased likelihood of disability and developmental delays.
The report highlighted that preterm birth rates have not changed in the past decade in any region of the world and that the “four Cs”—conflict, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis have heightened threats for the most vulnerable women and babies in all countries.
Besides, around one in 10 preterm babies are born in the 10 most fragile countries affected by humanitarian crises, according to the report. Additionally, climate change has increased the risk of preterm birth through direct pathways. For example, air pollution is estimated to contribute to six million preterm births each year, the report added.
Helga Fogstad, Executive Director at PMNCH, said that the report highlights the importance of increasing investment and accountability for preterm birth.
Progress is flatlining for maternal and newborn health, as well as the prevention of stillbirths, and is now pushed back further through the devastating combination of COVID-19, climate change, expanding conflicts, and rising living costs.
Steven Lauwerier, Director of Health at UNICEF, called every premature death a trail of loss and heartbreak.
Despite the many advances the world has made in the past decade, we have made no progress in reducing the number of small babies born too soon or averting the risk of their death. The toll is devastating. It’s time we improve access to care for pregnant mothers and preterm infants and ensure every child gets a healthy start and thrives in life.
Mitigating The Risks Of Preterm Birth
Dr. Anshu Banerjee, Director for Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health and Ageing at WHO, said that ensuring quality care for pregnant women and newborns was imperative for improving child health and survival.
Progress is also needed to help prevent preterm births — this means every woman must be able to access quality health services before and during pregnancy to identify and manage risks.
Ms. Helga Fogstad stressed the importance of partnerships between governments, donors, the private sector, civil society, parents, and health professionals to sound the alarm about this “silent emergency”. She added,
The partnerships will also bring preterm prevention and care efforts to the forefront of national health and development efforts, building human capital by supporting families, societies, and economies everywhere.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.