How a Global Twitter Relay Chat can spur action for newborns: Lessons from #WorldPrematurityDay

Photo: Ian P. Hurley/Save the Children
Nakima uses Kangaroo Mother Care, skin-to-skin care, with her preterm baby boy Waiswa after he was born six weeks premature at Iganga Regional Hospital in Uganda. 

With preterm birth on the rise around the world – in high- and low-income countries alike – there is great need to spread the message far and wide that more than 15 million babies are born too soon each year and more than one million of these little ones die. Prematurity is Cnot only the leading cause of newborn deaths, it’s the second biggest killer of children under five, after pneumonia.   

To build on the success of last year’s first-ever World Prematurity Day in 2011 and the launch of the groundbreaking Born Too Soon report this past May, a diverse group of partners, including non-profit organizations, private sector companies, UN agencies, academic institutions and parent groups across the globe joined to carry out a unified global communications campaign for this year’s World Prematurity Day. It included a comprehensive global social media plan designed to complement a traditional global media strategy and a programmatic movement to promote action on preterm birth in support of the Every Woman Every Child effort led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Cost-effective and proven interventions, such as antenatal corticosteroids to mature a premature baby’s lungs, kangaroo mother care to keep small babies warm and promote breastfeeding, can save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. This message was one that strongly resonated among parent groups, governments and influential advocates who can help push for policy change in countries around the world. New evidence published by the Lancet on preterm birth prevention and the need for more research into what causes prematurity was also instrumental for generating global media interest on the issue of preterm birth and World Prematurity Day.

An integral part of the social media strategy, the World Prematurity Day Facebook page was acted as the “home base” of the campaign, an interactive space where partners could engage with over 50,000 people, who shared stories and individual commitments to action for reducing preterm birth and improving care of preterm babies. An important aspect of World Prematurity Day was to reach and connect voices of struggle, happiness, despair and relief to show the global reality of this issue, and the imperative need for action.  

On the eve of World Prematurity Day, a 12-hour Global Twitter Relay on #WorldPrematurityDay allowed partners to further explore specific issues around preterm birth during hour-long, partner-led time slots involving experts, advocates and parents.

The Twitter conversation was an in-depth discussion ranging from parent empowerment to new research frontiers for preterm birth prevention, to ensuring linkages are established with other maternal and newborn care programs, to improving care in middle and low-income settings, and ensuring preterm birth becomes an issue that is well represented and funded in global and national agendas.

The #WorldPrematurityDay tweet chat on November 16th reached nearly 13 million people around the world. Nearly 9,000 tweets were published on the topic of preterm birth, generating more than 45 million impressions globally. Tweets from influential accounts including TIME Magazine, World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Huffington Post among others helped to amplify the sobering statistics on preterm birth and highlighted the key interventions that can help to combat this growing problem. Politicians and celebrities including Mandy Moore and Tony Rocha joined their voices to advocate for action.

The Twitter relay marked a milestone in the newborn health agenda, highlighting the power of personal stories and partnerships to tackle a large, seemingly intractable problem. Making a difference in preterm birth statistics must begin with driving change in public health consciousness. And so it is important for the Born Too Soon movement to carry forward the momentum created by World Prematurity Day. A coalition of the willing on this critical child survival issue has emerged and can live on in social media. Let’s keep the conversation alive using #BornTooSoon on Twitter, and hope that by next year’s World Prematurity Day, the global conversation will center around positive change in countries around the world. 

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