Significant number of PH babies 'born too soon,' says UN agency

The Philippines is among the countries with the most number of babies "born too soon," a United Nations agency claimed.

The country was ranked 8th out of 184 countries in terms of number of premature births based on latest data, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement.

Out of the 2.3 million births in the Philippines in 2010, a total of 348,900 were premature deliveries.

This translates to a premature birth rate of 14.9 percent, the 12th highest in the world, UNICEF said.

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Even more alarming, it added, is the portion of the preterm infants born in the Philippines who die due to complications, pegged at 14,200 in 2010.

Such figures made the Philippines the 14th country globally with the highest death rate due to problems arising from preterm birth.

"Today in the Philippines, 48% of children who die under the age of 5 years are newborns, and 39% of these die from preterm complications, making this the leading cause of newborn mortality," UNICEF said.

This, as it noted that most premature infants born in the Philippines are "late preterm babies" born between 32 and 37 weeks of pregnancy and thus have good chances of survival "if the basic, low cost interventions are in place."

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This is true for all other countries, UNICEF said, noting that preterm birth is "the world's largest killer of babies, causing more than one million deaths each year..."

"What is crucial for preterm babies is that they receive appropriate newborn care," UNICEF mother and child health expert Mariella Castillo said.

"This means ensuring that babies who have difficulty breathing get quick attention, and that all newborns are breastfed and kept warm, dry and clean," she added.

UNICEF meanwhile highlighted three low-cost interventions to improve the survivability of premature babies.

These include administering steroids to mothers before labor to allow the infant to breathe once born; Kangaroo mother care, which involves keeping the baby close to the mother for warmth and to facilitate breastfeeding; and antibiotics to keep the baby safe from infection.

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The Department of Health (DoH), for its part vowed to ramp up programs to reduce child mortality in the country.

"[E]fforts are currently being made to further strengthen such interventions and to make such services available for all mothers and newborns in the country," DoH Family Health official Anthony Calibo said.

Such commitment prompted UNICEF Health and Nutrition chief Willibald Zeck to say: "[T]here are encouraging signs for mothers in the Philippines, that more effective treatment for premature babies is on the way."

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