The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 12 babies are born preterm all over the globe with an increasing trend. The Philippines, in fact, is one of the top 10 countries with the highest number of premature births. The increase is attributed to pregnant women having none or fewer prenatal checkups, advanced maternal age, pregnancy complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and infertility treatments.
A full-term pregnancy means the bun in the oven has been "cooking" for 39 weeks or at least 37 weeks. That length of time is needed for your unborn baby's health. Premature birth carries consequences like respiratory and heart issues and delayed development for your baby throughout his life.
No woman wants to give birth too early, but a preterm delivery can happen to anyone who considers herself healthy. In many cases, the cause is unknown, but one of the four common reasons for early labor is an infection. If we can detect and treat the infection early, then it is possible to prevent premature births.
It's why we're hoping this three-minute test from the scientists at Imperial College London and Genesis Research Trust will become a success (it is still in the early stages of development). Here's how it works: Cell samples are taken from a pregnant woman's vagina (think pap smear). A small machine analyzes the samples for harmful bacteria. If a high number of harmful bacteria, such as streptococcus and staphylococcus, are found, then the woman is prescribed antibiotics.
Another simple blood test promises to help predict when precisely a woman will give birth. The test, developed by experts from Stanford University, can potentially be cheaper but just as accurate as an ultrasound (both claim 80-percent accuracy), and can possibly be the answer to detecting and preventing premature births.
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Instead of looking for bacterial infections in the woman's reproductive system, this test looks for biomarkers in the cell-free RNA (or messenger molecules) expressed from the placenta, which then finds its way to the mother's blood. These messenger molecules hold clues as to what is really happening inside the womb and the state of the pregnancy.
"We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery," said Mads Melbye, one of the study's lead authors and also president and CEO of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.
After years of working to understand preterm delivery, Melbye said via a press statement that this is the first real, significant scientific progress to address premature birth in a long time.
Michal Elovitz, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and maternal-fetal physician at the University of Pennsylvania, said via a press release, that while the test needs further research, the cell-free RNA could help pin down and prove that gestation for full-term delivery is not the same for women who may have a spontaneous preterm birth.
To help combat the issues brought about by preterm birth, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) launched new benefit packages for premature infants and small newborns at the very first National Summit on Prematurity and Low Birth Weight in 2016. Coverage can go up to Php135,000 to provide care to newborns born prematurely or with low birth weight.