Bhutan has seen progress in health facilities, equipment and human resources, which have contributed in saving preterm babies. But today, about 56 percent of under-five deaths are contributed by preterm deaths.
Premature birth is a serious public health concern where one in 10 babies are born premature, accounting for about 1,300 preterm births in a year.
Calling attention to the burden of under-five-years child deaths from preterm birth as well as disability and the pain that preterm birth causes, Bhutan joined the global community in observing the World Prematurity Day yesterday in Thimphu.
The theme this year was “Born too Soon: Providing the right care, at the right time, in the right place,” that stressed on the quality of care provided to preterm babies.
Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) President, Dr Kinzang P Tshering said, “With improved communication and transport system we can provide the right care at the right place and right time.”
However, he said that challenges remain. The president said it is crucial that the focus and commitment towards investment in women, maternal health and care during birth continue.
While the exact cause of preterm birth is not known, the president said that the multiple factors associated with prematurity such as anemia, lack of family planning, cervical insufficiency, low socio-economic factors give us the opportunity to take preventive measures and provide quality care to preterm babies.
“And all these can be done without much cost. All we need are loving parents, compassionate doctors and nurses, empathetic policy makers and a caring society,” the president added.
Given that about 85 percent of preterm babies are born at 32 to 37 weeks and do not require highly specialised care, three feasible solutions were recommended to prevent preterm baby deaths and promote growth and brain development.
UNICEF’s deputy representative Juliette Haenni said, “Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) will ensure that the preterm baby has the entire warmth that he or she needs to grow optimally.”
Early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding until two years and beyond, with appropriate complementary feeding were other recommendations.
“Currently, it is at 78 percent of babies born in the country who receives this vital first breast milk and it is important to ensure that 100 percent receives,” she said.
While breastfeeding practice among Bhutanese mothers has reached 99.3 percent of mothers with children less than two years ever breastfed, the 2015 National Nutrition Survey showed exclusive breastfeeding at only 51.4 percent.
To improve and sustain the nutrition and health of both mother and baby, health ministry in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, has initiated Baby Friendly Health Facility Initiative (MBFHI), an adaption of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative introduced in the 1990s. The initiative was piloted in Phuentsholing hospital and Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH).
“An assessment of the pilot project shows overall improvement in the MBFHI indicators, which are early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, adding that MBFHI can be scaled up in other hospitals,” an official said.
The country today has screening of risk factors, preconception care packages, treatment of chronic hypertension and point of care quality improvement in place to prevent preterm birth and death.
UNICEF’s State of the World Children’s Report on Children, Food and Nutrition was also launched at the event. The report warns that an alarmingly high number of children are suffering the consequences of poor diet.
Meanwhile, the event was a joint collaboration between health ministry and UNICEF.