152 million babies were pre-term and exposed to a high mortality risk in the last decade, says report by UN agencies

152 million babies were pre-term and exposed to a high mortality risk in the last decade, says report by UN agencies : Pre-term birth rates in India remain alarmingly high, with the country ranking among the top five in the world for babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy. According to a report by UN agencies and partners, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, China, and Ethiopia accounted for 45% of pre-term births globally in 2020, putting babies at a high risk of mortality.

The report estimates that 13.4 million babies were born pre-term last year, with nearly one million dying from complications, equivalent to around one in 10 babies. Bangladesh had the highest estimated pre-term birth rate at 16.2%, followed by Malawi and Pakistan. India and South Africa had an estimated pre-term birth rate of 13% each.

The lack of infrastructure for neonatal care is a major factor in India’s high pre-term birth rate, with rural areas particularly affected. While initiatives such as special newborn care units have helped save many pre-term babies, they are still not expansive enough. Lifestyle changes, chronic diseases, and IVF pregnancies are also associated with increased pre-term births in urban centers.

Pre-term birth is the leading cause of child mortality, accounting for nearly one in five deaths of children under five years. However, the report finds that pre-term birth rates have not changed in any region in the world over the past decade, with the global pre-term birth rate at 9.9% in 2020, compared to 9.8% in 2010.

The report highlights the need for every woman to have access to quality health services before and during pregnancy to identify and manage risks and avoid a pre-term birth. It also stresses the importance of quality care at special newborn care units and training mothers in practicing kangaroo care for low birth weight infants.

Policy changes are also needed to mitigate the risks of climate change, which is a significant factor in pre-term births. The “four Cs” – conflict, climate change, COVID-19, and the cost-of-living crisis – heighten threats for the most vulnerable women and babies in all countries.

While progress has been made in reducing pre-term birth rates in a few countries, changes have been modest at just 0.5% per year over the past decade. The report calls for urgent action to address this “silent emergency” for children’s survival and health, particularly in countries with high pre-term birth rates.

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