•The experts have noted that despite the strategies which have been put in place by the government bearing fruits, there is more that needs to be done
•Data from the Ministry of health showing that 12 per cent of children born in the country are pre-term
Health experts have called for investment in community awareness as key to reducing the burden of prematurity births in the country.
A Preterm baby is one born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed (born too soon).
This comes even as Kenya gears up to join the rest of the world in marking World Prematurity Day on Friday.
The experts have noted that despite the strategies which have been put in place by the government bearing fruits, there is more that needs to be done, with the rate of neonatal deaths remaining stagnant in recent years.
Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under five years of age with data from the Ministry of Health showing that 12 per cent of children born in the country are pre-term.
In Kenya, it is estimated that 127,500 babies were born too soon in the year 2020 accounting for about 12 per cent of all live births.
Unfortunately, a significant number of these babies die due to complications of prematurity with data showing they account for 30 per cent of deaths among babies aged 0 – 28 days.
Steve Mwangi, a senior Programmes Officer from Nutrition International says awareness at the community level on the causes of premature births will help reduce the burden as some still associate it with witchcraft or blame the mother.
“Awareness will help the communities to know how to prevent the situation, which is caused by known factors such as poor nutrition in mothers, diseases such as diabetes and pressure, and urinary tract infections,” Mwangi says.
He has further noted that there is a need for women to begin their Anti-natal clinics as soon as they realise they are pregnant.
This will ensure any health conditions they might be having are picked early and treatment initiated by the medics to reduce the chances of early onset of labour pains.
“Mothers in Kenya don’t come early but through the Community Health Promoters, we hope we will use them since they are in the communities to visit the women early and refer them to hospital to be able to reach the eight expected ANC contacts,” Mwangi notes.
Head, of the Division of Newborn and Child Health at the ministry Janette Karimi says even though the cause in about half of pre-term births is unknown, poor nutrition, alcohol intake, smoking and chronic diseases are risk factors.
Other risk factors include previous history of preterm labour and delivery, multiple gestations e.g. twins/triplets, uterine abnormalities, UTIs and STIs.
She has further noted that while under-five mortality has decreased by over 50 per cent since 2003, neonatal mortality has decreased at a much slower rate of 33 per cent.
“Many survivors face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems,” Karimi says.
Apart from good nutrition, avoiding alcohol and smoking and completing eight ANC visits, Karimi notes that Immediate Kangaroo Mother Care (Ikmc) can be started immediately after the birth of the pre-term baby.
This includes continuous skin-to-skin contact between baby and parent for at least hours a day, alongside exclusive breastfeeding or breastmilk feeding.
“Counties should equip county referral facilities to provide comprehensive newborn care services at the Newborn Unit, which includes equipment, commodities and trained health care workers,” Karimi notes.