The World Prematurity Day is observed on November 17 each year to raise awareness of preterm birth and the concerns of preterm babies and their families worldwide.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than a million preterm babies die each year, making it a serious health problem worldwide.
The WHO also states that, approximately, 15 million babies are born preterm each year, accounting for about one in 10 of all babies born worldwide
A preterm birth is defined as a baby born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy. According to the WHO, preterm babies who survive often have lifelong health problems such as cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss and intellectual disabilities.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic, the Head of the Hwidiem Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the St Elizabeth Hospital in the Brong Ahafo Region, Dr Dora Dapaah, who was born preterm, advised mothers of preterm babies to always wash their hands with soap and clean water before handling such babies.
According to her, handling preterm babies with an unclean hand could lead to such babies contracting some infections, explaining that “preterm babies have very tender skin and have weak immune system.”
She also cautioned mothers against feeding preterm babies with infant formula instead of practicing exclusive breastfeeding, saying “the breast milk is the best feed for preterm babies.”
Dr Dapaah said preterm babies needed to be breastfed exclusively to enable their systems to develop well, noting that preterm babies, unlike normal term babies, had very weak digestive systems, hence their bodies’ inability to digest the formula.
“When you put them (preterm babies) on the infant formula, they can develop infections,” she said, adding that “infection control is what is killing most preterm babies.”
Dr Dapaah also urged mothers of preterm babies to help the babies to suck their breast since most preterm babies were not strong to properly suck the breast themselves.
She further urged mothers of preterm babies not to expose them (babies) to “unnecessary cold.”
She appealed to benevolent individuals and institutions to help the Hwidiem Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to expand its facilities.
The Executive Director of RISE-Ghana, a health-focused Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in northern Ghana, Mr Awal Ahmed Kariama, in a statement said “At least 29 per cent of neonatal deaths in Ghana are caused by premature births.”
“As we join the rest of the world to mark this important day, we wish to urge all stakeholders, particular families, community leaders and the media to support strengthen the bond of care and provide support to the gallant mothers and health workers who are making great sacrifices to ensure every preterm baby survives in optimal health,” he stated.