AS Nigerians joined others in marking the World prematurity, a medical expert, Dr Kemi Tongo, says 803,200 babies are born prematurely every year in Nigeria, accounting for 12 per cent of all births due to factors such as poor health seeking behaviour of women and domestic violence.
Dr Tongo, a consultant neonatologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said these babies were a big contributor to Nigeria’s high neonatal deaths because they were born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
She declared that without access to proper care, it might be impossible for premature babies to attain their potential in life, like their full-term babies’ counterparts.
According to the paediatrician, preterm babies die more than their full-term baby counterparts from problems such as infection, need for warmth, family’s unpreparedness for their early births and demands of that period and sometimes, inability to feed.
She stated, “they are normal babies but because they have come too soon, they have extra challenges and as such extra needs which many times people don’t even pay attention to and deal with. Their families too, have challenges because they never anticipated that these babies would come too early. Caring for premature babies can be very challenging to both families and even health care workers.
“It is an emergency. It is not to say that with low tech, we cannot care for some preterm babies. It only means that everybody has to be on their toes, especially the health workers and the parents too, particularly in a setting like ours where you pay point of care user fees before you get any service.”
Dr Tongo, however, called for increased funding and support from philanthropists for the care of these babies born too soon, adding that “In developed countries, it costs as much as a thousand pounds daily to keep a preterm baby in the intensive care unit.”
According to her, “Whatever is contributed will help to make a baby survive, thrive and not have challenges as he grows up in future. So, in that regards, we need this attention to prematurity. Let people know that in Nigeria, we certainly need help.”
The expert called for improved facilities in Nigerian hospitals for mothers of premature babies taken care of these babies, including support for families support, support for health care workers and a strengthened health care system because these babies need a little more than those not born prematurely.
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