World Prematurity Day 2020 – turn awareness into action

Issued by North West University
Johannesburg, Nov 24, 2020

For the past 10 years, every 17 November is observed as World Prematurity Day. This day aims to highlight and raise awareness of preterm birth and the concerns of preterm babies and their families worldwide.

In South Africa, 15% of all births, which equates to one in seven babies, are born preterm. Premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. Globally, around one million babies a year die due to complications and a lack of proper healthcare.

The European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) was the first organisation and network to represent the interests of preterm and newborn infants and their families. EFCNI has been raising awareness of World Prematurity Day since 2008.

Parent groups, health professionals, hospitals, organisations and other stakeholders involved in preterm birth observe this day with media campaigns, local events and other activities conducted on local, regional, national or international level to raise awareness among the public. The year 2020 sees over 170 organisations highlighting World Prematurity Day.

Some of the suggestions on how to support World Prematurity Day include accessing promotion materials to be used on social media, wearing purple and lighting a purple candle on 17 November in support of prematurity. All of these gestures are noble and need to help create awareness. Questions should, however, be raised about what awareness could be created to assist the support needs of parents with premature infants. How do we turn awareness into action?

This year’s theme for World Prematurity Day is: “Together for babies born too soon – caring for the future.” The keyword here should be FUTURE. We want these babies to grow up and have a future.

That is exactly what Prof Welma Lubbe, associate professor at the North-West University, School of Nursing Science, is doing. “While most international research is conducted in high-income countries, it repeatedly states that parents of premature infants have increased needs and require additional information and support after the infant’s initial discharge from hospital.” Research, as published by Prof Lubbe in the Journal of Early Intervention in September 2020, reported that “parents, regardless of country, consistently reported unmet information and support needs, coupled with a lack of adequate community-based and healthcare professional support”.

Prof Lubbe is turning awareness into action by the national research project that she is leading to “implement neuro-developmental supportive care” in South African neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), as well as the work she does as owner and founder of the parenting support organisation, Little Steps. Little Steps made the first evidence-based Web site available for South African parents with preterm babies and recently launched an online parenting workshop via her Web site. Another great resource she has available is the book: “Prematurity – adjusting your dream”, which was written for parents with preterm babies in the NICU, but is currently also prescribed as textbook for healthcare professionals working with these littlest of persons.

“This year, with World Prematurity Day, let’s address the lack of adequate community-based and healthcare professional support. Instead of only putting an awareness frame around your Facebook profile picture, why not share an article about how to prevent infections in babies born too soon. An alternative to lighting a purple candle to show support could be to encourage conversations about experiences with caring for preterm babies. Anyone who has given birth prematurely understands how scary it can be. Consider sharing experiences with other families struggling with prematurity. Your support can comfort a family with a baby in the NICU,” Prof Lubbe says.

On 17 November 2020, rather than only wearing purple, why not make a donation to a charity such as Projects4Preemies, Beanies 4 Babies or the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) to help NICUs in our country to obtain proper healthcare, whether in the form of training nurses and midwives or obtaining life support machines?

Only by turning awareness into action can we truly address this serious health problem.

For more information, kindly contact Prof Welma Lubbe at [email protected].