Thursday, February 5, 2015

Championing the Fight Against Prematurity

It is such a tragedy for any couple about to welcome their baby into their lives to lose that baby so soon after it is born because of prematurity. And yet here in the Philippines, statistics show that we rank 2nd in the number of premature births in Southeast Asia, 8th worldwide, and 17th in deaths arising from preterm birth complications. This, even after the United Nations, through the Millennium Summit in 2000, launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which included as one of its goals the reduction of child mortality.

Complications plaguing preterm babies have also been on the rise at an alarming rate. Complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age and is responsible for almost 1 million deaths in 2013. Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is the 2nd leading cause of death among premature infants in the Philippines and the leading verifiable one.

WOW! As a Mom, that hits me really hard knowing these statistics. I count myself blessed that giving birth to my 4 children was not too complicated and they were all born full term. But many other Filipino mothers have not been as lucky and have had to bury their babies after nurturing them for many months in their wombs.

This is a large part of our population known as the silent ones. These babies cannot defend themselves. Others will have to speak up for them.

So it's good to know that a campaign known as Hinga-Hingalo ni Baby is being launched jointly by the Philippine Society of Newborn Medicine (PSNbM), the Department of Health (DOH), Philhealth, and the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital. The campaign is so aptly named because it reflects the struggle that a premature baby experiences -- hinga (breathing) or hingalo (gasping for breath). Preemies do not have well-developed lungs yet when they are born earlier than their full-term date. That makes them very vulnerable to infection.

Dr. Carina C. Quimbo, PSNbM President, says "While initiatives by the government, the health sector, and international organizations helped the country achieve a huge drop in child mortality, there is still a need for a more centralized and more concentrated effort in ending this grave national health issue."

The Hinga-Hingalo ni Baby movement aims to inform the public about the statistics, the complications of premature births, create awareness, and point the public to the right channels to avail of medical intervention.

I was intrigued by what Dr. Melissa Juico, Chairman of the Neonatology Department of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital related to us. In their hospital, oftentimes there are not enough incubators for the preemies so they have come up with a program called Kangaroo Mother Care. I looked it up and found the World Health Organization's definition of it: "Kangaroo mother care is a method of care of preterm infants. The method involves infants being carried, usually by the mother, with skin-to-skin contact." In Fabella, mothers are taught how to put their preemie babies on their bare skin (skin-to-skin contact) using a pouch similar to a kangaroo's pouch.

I have read articles talking about how skin contact with the mother oftentimes increases a preemie's survival rate. The warmth of the skin combined with the familiar heartbeat of the mom must be contributing factors. Dr. Juico said that they even bring in the fathers into the program because it is skin warmth that is important. Imagine if we could teach people who are in far-flung areas about Kangaroo Mother Care! And for those affected by disasters and who have to stay in evacuation centers (some of the least ideal environments for preemies), these babies may just stand a better chance if their mothers knew about Kangaroo Mother Care. In fact, baby slings should not just be fashionable baby wear. They can actually save lives!

Watch this video.

I hope that when you read this post, you will help spread the word about the high risks brought about by premature births. Local government units (LGUs) need to be more aware of this threat to small lives and how, through better information and training, they can help bring programs like Kangaroo Mother Care to their areas in order to eventually reduce our nationwide mortality rate from premature births.

To know more about Hinga-Hingalo ni Baby movement, visit or like their Facebook page.

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