Tujoromajo Kasuto

It is a stark reality that approximately one in five babies born too early may not survive but medical and nursing care has improved significantly over the last 40 years.

“Today, in Namibia, we can help babies who, 10 or 20 years ago would not have survived. Today, we are privileged to see tiny babies weighing about 1000 g or in some cases, less than that, survive and go home to their families,” says Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) Executive Director (ED), Ben Nangombe.

Nangombe said this during the commemoration of World Prematurity Day today, which is commemorated since 2011. The day is a key platform to focus global attention on the burden of preterm birth, a phenomenon which, in many instances leads to long-term morbidity and infant mortality.

However, the number of preterm births is rising, and some premature babies do not make it. This is due to several factors, including delayed health-seeking behaviour by some expectant mothers, who present late at health facilities, who delay attending antenatal care or simply do not attend such, or those who choose to deliver at home and only go to the hospital with a baby in a poor state of health.

Nangombe commends the good work done by health care workers around the country to improve the care for neonates revealing that the recent reports he has received from facilities such as Windhoek Central, Onandjokwe, Rundu and Katima Mulilo State Hospital point to improved outcomes.

Interventions by the ministry with the support of their development cooperation partners, namely the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), WHO, UNICEF, Neo for Namibia, and others have resulted in the delivery of critical high-end medical equipment to many health facilities.

Today, neo-natal units at district hospitals are equipped with a fair number of modern equipment such as incubators, baby warmers, ventilators, CPAP (for smaller and bigger babies), phototherapy units, cot beds, pulse oxymeters.

The day is an opportunity to consider the heavy burden that preterm birth causes on parents, families, friends and on former preterm born children. Approximately 15 million babies are born preterm each year, accounting for about one in 10 of all babies born worldwide. According to Nangombe it is also a day to celebrate and remember the babies who have survived the journey of being born too early. “Celebrating the mothers, fathers, and families who embraced and endured the struggles through pre-term labour and delivery,” he emphasises.

He further adds that it is also to celebrate health care workers who have given and continue to give themselves and their time selflessly to care for the well-being of these fragile newborns. “We celebrate that we can be here together to share our stories of victories and the challenges that have been overcome.”

The day is also to remember the little lives lost, despite sterling efforts of health care workers, because of prematurity and the complications that result from premature birth. The remembrance of the heartache, the trepidation, and the overwhelming feelings of sorrow for hopes not realised.