Report: Kenya among countries with moderately high preterm births

The report sounds the alarm on a “silent emergency” of preterm birth, long under-recognised in its scale and severity.

In Summary

• Every two seconds, a baby is born too soon in Kenya and globally.

• And every 40 seconds, one of those babies dies.

A mother holds a newborn
A mother holds a newborn
Image: FILE

Every two seconds, a baby is born too soon in Kenya and globally.

And every 40 seconds, one of those babies dies.

This was the findings of a report dubbed Born Too Soon: decade of action on preterm birth that was released on May 10 in Cape Town, South Africa.


According to the report, Kenya is among the countries that have recorded moderately high preterm births.

Its numbers are put at below 10 per cent.

This means that the total number of preterm babies that were born in Kenya in 2020 was 127,500. 

This number is out of  1,455,900 children that were born that year.

According to the report, Malawi has the highest preterm births in Africa with 14.5 per cent.

South Africa came in second with 13 per cent.


“Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia have the highest rates of preterm birth, and preterm babies. Sub-Saharan Africa had 10.1 per cent in pre-term births in both 2010 and 2020,” the report read.

This means that the number of babies born preterm increased with 563,000 more babies born preterm in 2020 than in 2010.

According to the report, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 3.9 million preterm births.

Among the risks of preterm births was climate change and Covid-19 among others.

“The impacts of Covid-19 on preterm birth rates were both direct, with severe infection in pregnancy being a risk factor for higher preterm rates,” it read.

Speaking during the release of the report, Maternal, Reproductive & Child Health and Director of March Centre  at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Joy Lawn said lockdown policies may also have increased both stillbirth rates and neonatal deaths among vulnerable newborns.

“Inequalities within countries are equally shocking. For example, in Kenya, births attended by skilled health personnel range from 35% in the lowest wealth quintile to 92 per cent in the highest,” she said.

The report was produced by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and PMNCH – the world’s largest alliance for women, children, and adolescents. PMNCH executive director Helga Fogstad said the report underlines why we must increase 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 Covid-19, climate change, expanding conflicts and rising living costs,’ she said.

Talking at the sidelines of the launch of the report, Fogstad said collaborations and partnerships between countries can be of big help.

“Governments, donors, the private sector, civil society, parents, and health professionals –can sound the alarm about this “silent emergency”, and bring preterm prevention and care efforts to the forefront of national health and development efforts,” she said.

Fogstad said this can build human capital by supporting families, societies and economies everywhere.

According to the report, in high-income countries, nine in 10 extremely preterm babies survive, whereas fewer than one in 10 survive in low-income countries. 

An estimated 13.4 million babies were born preterm in 2020, with nearly one million dying from preterm complications, the report noted. 

These numbers are equivalent to around one in 10 babies born early worldwide.

“Maternal health risks, such as adolescent pregnancy and pre-eclampsia, are closely linked to preterm births,” the report read.


The report sounds the alarm on a “silent emergency” of preterm birth, long under-recognised in its scale and severity.

This, they say, is impeding progress in improving children’s health and survival.

The report finds that preterm birth rates have not changed in any region in the world in the past decade, with 152 million vulnerable babies born too soon from 2010 to 2020.

“Preterm birth is now the leading cause of child deaths, accounting for more than one in five of all deaths of children occurring before their 5th birthday,” the report read.

“Preterm survivors can face lifelong health consequences, with an increased likelihood of disability and developmental delays.”

According to the report, only one in 10 extremely preterm babies survive in low-income countries, compared to more than nine in 10 in high-income countries.

“Gaping inequalities related to race, ethnicity, income, and access to quality care determine the likelihood of preterm birth, death, and disability, even in high-income countries,” report adds.


The report indicates that women’s access to a comprehensive set of high-quality, respectful services for sexual, reproductive and maternal health is fundamental.

“It is critical for these services to be effectively integrated within universal health coverage, and invigorated efforts are needed to close gaps in coverage as well as quality across the continuum of care,” the report read.

“All countries need to focus on enabling women’s choices for family planning, with explicit efforts to reach adolescents and other underserved populations.”

According to the report, more investments are needed in maternity care, including midwifery services, and enabling respectful care for all. 

The report denotes the importance of mobilising international and domestic resources to optimise maternal and newborn health.

"Meeting country targets for progress through implementing established national policies for maternal and newborn care,” it indicates.

It also recommends the promotion of education through the lifecycle.

"Supporting smarter economic investments, with co-financing across sectors; strengthening climate adaptation responses across the life-course; and advancing the coordination and resilience of emergency systems,” it reads

“Investing in locally led innovation and research to support improvements in quality of care and equity in access.”

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