nsofor5_Conrad BornmanGallo ImagesGetty Images_premature baby Conrad Bornman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Helping Premature Babies Survive

Approximately one million premature babies die each year from complications at birth. New research offers hope for the treatment of at-risk mothers, but interventions in at least four other areas are necessary to help save more newborn lives.

ABUJA – Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death globally for children under five. Of the 15 million babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy every year, approximately one million will die. But new research conducted at secondary and tertiary health facilities in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan offers hope for increased survival rates.

These countries have some of the world’s highest numbers of preterm births. But a randomized clinical trial – known as Antenatal Corticosteroids for Improving Outcomes in Preterm Newborns (WHO ACTION-I) – proved that administering the steroid dexamethasone to pregnant women at risk of preterm birth in low-resource settings can boost their babies’ chance of survival, without increasing the incidence of bacterial infection in mothers. For every 25 pregnant women treated with the steroid, one premature baby’s life was saved.

As a young medical doctor undergoing training at a teaching hospital in Nigeria, I carried out blood transfusions in premature infants with jaundice. It is a tedious process that can lead to infections in newborns. The possibility of sparing mothers and their babies from such life-threatening procedures is one reason to consider the WHO ACTION-I trial a lifesaver.

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