India ranks number one in preterm births and deaths from complications arising from preterm births in a report titled, Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth by the UN. The report provides the first-ever national, regional and global estimates of preterm births in 51 countries, showing the extent to which preterm birth is on the rise in most countries and is now the second leading cause of death globally for children under five, after pneumonia.
The report explains what is known about preterm birth, its causes and the kind of care needed. Worldwide, 50 million births still happen at home and many babies die without birth or death certificates. Dr Y S Nandanwar, HoD of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Sion Hospital, concurred, “Yes, we have the highest rate in the world but these deaths are preventable with good antenatal care as the government and private sectors are providing good facilities.”
1.1 million preterm babies die every year, but with inexpensive treatment, 75% could survive. An estimated three-quarters of those preterm babies who die could survive without expensive care if a few proven and inexpensive treatments and preventions were available worldwide, according to more than 100 experts who contributed to the report, representing almost 40 UN agencies, universities and organisations. Dr Nadanwar explained that lack of education, poor hygiene, poor self-care and anaemia in pregnant women are responsible for deaths and that regular check-ups of pregnant women could stem this loss of life.
Maternal stressors such as depression, socio-economic hardship and intimate partner violence have been linked to preterm birth. In addition, tobacco and second-hand smoke ups the risk. The report also stated that in impoverished settings, a preterm death may be counted as a still birth to “protect the mother”. “Regular check-ups are a must. Sweeping floors, washing clothes should be avoided by pregnant women. Also, enough rest should be taken.