Alarm over pre-term births rise

The national rate of pre-term births has gone up from 7.2 per cent to 9.5 per cent in the last five years, health experts have said. The disturbing scenario, which is raising concerns in the health circles, is further aggravated by the fact that Kenya is among top 15 countries with the highest rate of premature babies worldwide.

Pumwani Maternity Hospital medical superintendent Lazurus Omondi said this rise in pre-term births is linked to women preferring to delay childbearing in pursuit of education and careers. “Most women are delivering between the ages of 35 and 40 due to education, career choices, financial reasons,” he said, adding that statistics also indicate that more expectant mothers are going under the knife-—Caesarian Section— during delivery.

He said complications arising from pre-term births are a concern to the Ministry of Health largely because they are currently the leading cause of neonatal mortality (death of children below one month) in the country. “The ministry has commissioned a research on pre-term births,” said Omondi, adding that premature babies make up about 13.5 per cent of the newborns in the facility.

The hospital handles an estimated 80 deliveries daily with at least 10 babies requiring incubation. Figures released by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in 2014 indicate that of the 1.5 million live-births in Kenya annually, 188,000 are of babies born “too soon” — below 37 weeks.

Based on these statistics, one out of every eight children born in the country is premature. According to the hospital’s deputy superintendent Catherine Mutinda, nearly 85 per cent of pre-term babies are born between 32 and 37 weeks of gestation and most of these do not need intensive care facilities to survive.

And now, the country’s largest maternity hospital has introduced Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) to mitigate the rise. Kangaroo care—skin-to-skin care—is a technique practised on newborns and usually, care for pre-term infants may be restricted to a few hours per day.

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