WHO Guidelines for Improving Survival of Small and Preterm Babies

The World Health Organization has released guidelines to improve the survival of small (under 2.5 kg) and premature (before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

What are the key features of the guidelines?

  • Preterm infants can be saved using practical and affordable solutions like high-quality prenatal, postpartum and postnatal care, prevention and treatment of common infections, kangaroo mother care, and exclusive breastfeeding
  • Kangaroo mother care (skin-to-skin contact with a caretaker) should be started immediately after birth and without the initial period in an incubator.
  • Previously, preterm infants are required to be briefly separated from their primary caregiver to be stabilized in an incubator for three to four days. This is done to help preterm infants to control their breathing and body temperature.
  • This requirement has been removed by WHO in these new guidelines.
  • In the guidelines, the WHO also provided recommendations to support families of premature babies, who often experience extreme stress and suffering due to the intense caregiving duties and concerns for their children’s health.
  • The guidelines highlight the importance of providing care for families and preterm babies together as a unit so that parents are able to provide the best possible support.
  • The new guidelines are also applicable for high-income situations, though they are also effective in settings where access to cutting-edge technology or even a steady supply of electricity is absent.

Premature birth

Premature birth is a major public health concern. It accounts for around 15 million births each year or more than 1 in 10 births worldwide. Over 20 million babies have low birth weights. Currently, there is a significant difference in a preterm baby’s odds of survival. It depends on where these babies are born. Most babies, born on or at 28 weeks, survive in high-income countries. In poorer countries, the survival rate of these babies is less than 10 per cent.

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