Preterm babies may be saved with simple inexpensive measures

Preterm birth is a global problem affecting families across the world. More than 60% of preterm births occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, the problem of preterm births is universal, with both the United States and Brazil ranking among the top 10 countries with the highest number of preterm births in the world.

Nearly 3 million babies are born every year in Ethiopia and 10% of them are born prematurely or with low birth weight. Newborn death contributes to 42% of under-five mortality. (EDHS2011) Preterm babies are the most vulnerable and at risk of death and disability within minutes of birth.  Preterm birth is a leading cause of newborn mortality globally as well as in Ethiopia.

A premature baby born in Yekatit 12 hospital
A premature baby born in Yekatit 12 hospital ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Pudlowski

More than 75 per cent of preterm babies may be saved with simple inexpensive measures that do not need high technology.  Quality of care and competent health care providers, particularly skilled birth attendants, are essential requirements for providing care for both mother and baby. Many complications can be prevented by focusing on care during pregnancy, labour, birth and days after birth – a critical time to save lives of women, new-borns, and prevent stillbirths. Essential new born care including warmth, hygiene and feeding is important for all newborns but especially for those born premature.

UNICEF Ethiopia together with its partners is supporting the following intervention strategies which include care of the preterm babies

  • Integrated community case management: more than 29,500 HEWs (Health Extension Workers) are trained in extra care of the premature baby and resuscitation skills over the last three years
  • Community Based Newborn care by HEWs (launched March, 2013) that mainly focuses on preterm management, antibiotic treatment for infections and asphyxia management.
  • Establishing and supporting Newborn Care Corners in health centres and Neonatal Intensive Care Units in key referral and teaching hospitals

World Prematurity Day is observed on 17 November 2013. This year, World Prematurity Day will also highlight the important work of the Every Newborn Action Plan, that aims to improve newborn health and to reduce maternal and child mortality by uniting the work of all actors, including parent and community groups. Learn more at

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