Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonate and infant mortality in the country

Health: One in every 10 children born in Bhutan is premature and the number of premature births across the country is growing, according to paediatricians.

As Bhutan joined the world to observe the World Prematurity Day yesterday, paediatricians and doctors at JDWNRH met with a group of people at the hospital to disseminate information on prematurity.

World Prematurity Day is observed to draw attention to the growing number of preterm births, and to offer hope to families affected by it. Premature babies are those born before 30 weeks of pregnancy.

Currently there are about five premature babies admitted at the Neonate ICU in JDWNRH. Worldwide, an estimated 15M babies are born preterm.

Although figures were not available, doctors said premature birth was the leading cause of neonate death and the number one cause of increasing infant mortality rate.

The Annual Health Bulletin, 2015 (AHB) show a slight decrease in neonatal deaths. In 2012, there were 91 neonatal deaths according to the bulletin. The number dropped to 72 in 2013 and further declined to 62 last year.

Pediatrician Dr Kinley Tshering said that while some causes of premature births are not known, prematurity in Bhutan was related to not attending antenatal care and infection in the uterus (UTI). Diabetics, hypertension and alcohol consumption were also the main causes of premature births in the country.

He said many survivors of preterm birth face a lifetime of disability, including mental deficiency, learning disabilities, visual and hearing problems.

“Every baby who is born premature has the risk of developing one or the other form of disability,” he said.

Death of preterm babies, he said, not only leads to increased infant mortality rate but also increases the living expenses, economic cost and emotional tool of the parents, considering the care required for life long.

Some ways to avoid premature birth, Dr Kinley Tshering suggested was by strengthening antenatal services. Pregnant mothers could increase antenatal visits from four during the entire pregnancy to eight times, eat better nutrition, control blood pressure and avoid alcohol.

Avoiding unwanted pregnancies, teenage pregnancies and pregnancy at old age would also minimise premature births.  According to the AHB, about 12,500 women received at least one time antenatal care from a skilled health professional in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Youth Development Fund contributed 1,000 knitted hats and sweaters to the Tshegho project- knitting for a cause, a community initiated to address the problem of preterm births.  Trainees at the Faculty of Nurse, Pelkhil School, staff of health ministry, NICU and other individuals also contributed knitted garments for premature babies, which will be distributed to all 20 dzongkhags.

Tshegho project started after it was learnt that readymade clothes for preterm babies were not available in the market.

Nirmala Pokhrel