KHMH marks World Prematurity Day


World Prematurity Day is marked annually on November 17 and this year, it is being held under the theme “Together for babies born too soon – Caring for the future”. This year’s theme has three primary focuses which include 1. Supporting families; 2. Supporting healthcare professionals; and 3. Strengthening healthcare systems. These become increasingly important topics as the numbers of premature babies, babies born before the 38-week gestation period, increases. Worldwide, one in ten babies are born premature and while the figures might not be as high in Belize, there are still hundreds of premature babies being born yearly. We were not able to get our hands on exact statistics but around 50% of the babies born for this year alone were born premature. That is around 152 babies and currently, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), some seven of 13 babies are premature.
World Prematurity Day is one of the most important days in the year to raise awareness of the challenges and burden of preterm births globally. Seeing the importance, we are following suit in promoting awareness. Typically at the KHMH, babies who were born premature but have since been engaging in a healthy life would return to the hospital for activities throughout the day. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this was not possible this year. Despite this reality, the staff at the KHMH, especially those at the NICU, still observed the day and used it an as opportunity to call attention to the heavy burden of death and disability and the pain and suffering that preterm birth causes.
Both Neroli Williams, Unit Manager at the NICU, and RN Ashley Charlesworth shared the factors which contribute to premature childbirth. These include the age of the mother (extremely young or further on in years), diet, stress, and other external factors. As such, doctors and other health professionals tend to offer advice to expectant mothers, letting them understand the health risks to their child as well as to themselves should they have babies in consecutive years or fail to stick to a healthy diet. When whatever combination of external factors leads to the premature birth, the personnel at the NICU are trained to care for premature babies. Regardless of their care, however, the life and quality of life depends entirely on the baby’s capacity to fight. RN Charlesworth says that it is quite the fight for these premature newborns, but it is awe-inspiring to see these babies preserve and become just as healthy as a full-term baby.
They ended on a very important note, that, as expressed in this year’s theme, it requires cohesive effort from everyone, including fathers, to care for these babies. Both Williams and Charlesworth highlighted how important it is for a premature baby, who cannot be exposed to too many persons at once, to spend time with both parents. This helps to develop the foundational work which translates into a healthy childhood for these children.