According to a statement from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Philippines ranks the 8th highest among 184 countries when it comes to the prevalence of premature births. In fact, according to the UN World Health Organization, premature birth is the biggest killer of newborn babies, which accounts for more than a million deaths each year. Premature babies, also referred to as "preemies", are born before they reach at least 37 weeks, and with body parts that are not yet developed, are usually not fit to survive after childbirth.
According to past studies, premature babies are likely to suffer from long-term negative effects such as poor academic and socialization skills, as well as a bigger risk of getting afflicted with heart-related problems when they reach adulthood.
(Related story: Effects of Premature Birth can Last until Adulthood)
The good news is that through proper newborn care, the survival rate of premature babies can be improved significantly. Said Elizabeth Mason, director of WHO's Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, "This means keeping them warm, clean, and well-fed, and ensuring that babies who have difficulty breathing get immediate attention."
Other methods which have been found to be effective in lowering the deaths of premature babies is injecting women with steroids before childbirth to help boost the development of the unborn child's lungs, using antibiotics to treat infections, as well as kangaroo care, which involves skin-to-skin contact of the mother and infant to promote physiological and psychological warmth and closeness between the two. This is because babies lose bodily heat fast and makes them more prone to getting diseases or even dying.
The WHO also stressed the importance of preventing factors that influence premature birth, such as diabetes, cigarette smoking, hypertension, among others.
In the Philippines, a protocol called the "Unang Yakap" ("The First Embrace") provides "guidelines for quality and safe birthing services that are mother- and newborn-friendly". The Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Safety (POGS), together with the Department of Health (DOH) and the WHO, have also come up with guidelines on newborn care called the DOH-WHO Guidelines on Intrapartum and Immediate Postpartum Care to ensure that moms give birth safely.
• November 17, 2012. "Premature birth leading cause of death among babies in East Asia-Pacific region" www.unicef.org
• November 18, 2012. "UN stresses benefit of low-cost care in saving newborns" www.philstar.com
• November 20, 2012. Rina Jimenez-David. "Born too soon" opinion.inquirer.net
• "Time to focus on more than 350,000 preterm births in the Philippines every year" www.unicef.org
Image from healthjockey.com