WHO: 1 in 2 premature births missing life-saving drugs

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Friday, August 22, 2014

MORE than half of mothers, who prematurely give birth in hospitals, are not being given life-saving drugs, which could have prevent death and disability among preterm newborns.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 52 percent of women, who are eligible for the corticosteroid treatment and who gave birth at 26-34 weeks, received them prior to delivery.

"Nearly half of women at risk of preterm birth do not receive cheap drug that could prevent millions of newborn deaths," said the December 2011 WHO study.

"More than three-quarters of preterm babies born in hospitals could be saved with cost-effective interventions like corticosteroids to the pregnant woman before she gives birth," it further said.

Similarly, the WHO study found out that 27 percent of the women, who were eligible to receive tocolytic drugs, were treated only with bed rest or hydration.

Also, less than one in five (18 percent) women in the study, who could have been given tocolytic drugs and antenatal corticosteroids, actually received both.

On the other hand, a total of 48 percent received no treatment at all, according to the study involving more 300,000 individuals involving 359 hospitals across 29 countries.

To note, a full-term pregnancy should be 40 weeks.

Such findings, according to the WHO, are unacceptable considering that tocolytic drugs and antenatal corticosteroids do not require refrigeration and cost less than US$1 per injection.

"All women in preterm labor, who are between 26 and 34 weeks pregnant in hospitals with access to newborn care, should be getting corticosteroids. They’re one of the most effective, safe and inexpensive treatments for reducing newborn deaths and disability," said WHO – Department of Reproductive Health and Research Director Dr. Marleen Temmerman.

The WHO said an injection of corticosteroids given to a mother in preterm labor or at risk for preterm birth triggers production of surfactant or a protein substance produced by lung cells to facilitate breathing in the baby's lungs.

On the other hand, tocolytic drugs are meant to slow down labor, thereby giving more time for antenatal corticosteroids to work.

The WHO said over one in 10 babies around the world are born earlier than the full pregnancy term.

Premature birth is the largest cause of death among newborn babies, and that complications of prematurity kill around one million children per year.

Complications of preterm birth include respiratory distress syndrome, bleeding in the brain, and long-term health conditions, such as learning disabilities and poor motor skills. (HDT/Sunnex)

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