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Pandemic worsens preterm birth challenges in Vietnam

The Saigon Times

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HCMC – The Covid-19 pandemic has forced neonatal units to adopt strict safety measures that unfortunately often separate parents from their preterm babies in the neonatal unit, with detrimental consequences for babies and parents alike, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said at an event to mark World Prematurity Day (November 17).

According to UNICEF, preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under five. It is estimated that 17,000 children die within their first 28 days and 103,500 babies are born preterm annually in Vietnam.

In addition to the health challenges experienced by the newborns, the separation of parents from their babies due to the pandemic has contributed to severe and long-term health and developmental issues in newborns and affects the mental health of parents.

With the theme “Zero Separation. Act now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together”, this year’s World Prematurity Day is an opportunity to advocate for every parent’s right to have unrestricted access to their babies in the hospital, no matter where and when.

Even without the additional risks of the pandemic, preterm babies are among the most vulnerable patients and, as studies have shown time and again, they need their parents by their side.

Healthcare systems were encouraged to balance the needs of babies born too soon, too small, or too sick and their families with the requirements to keep hospitals running and the staff safe during the pandemic.

In Vietnam, UNICEF continues to work with the Ministry of Health to support and scale-up newborn lifesaving interventions across the country.

This work focuses particularly on the rural and mountainous provinces in the North and Central Highlands, where a large ethnic population lives and worryingly high neonatal mortality rates persist.

According to Maharajan Muthu, Chief of Child Survival and Development Program of UNICEF Vietnam, cost-effective interventions to save newborns include immediate skin-to-skin contact and the early initiation of breastfeeding for newborns.

Skin-to-skin contact as early as after birth and as continuously as possible has positive and protective effects, such as the regulation of cardiac and respiratory rates, the prevention of sepsis (severe infection), hypothermia (low body temperature) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and reduced hospital readmission.

Meanwhile, early and exclusive breastfeeding and providing the mother’s own milk have a positive impact on the baby’s short- and long-term physiological and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

“It is equally important to ensure that babies born too soon, too small or too sick, if needed, have equitable and quick access to higher levels of hospital care, irrespective of where they are born,” Muthu said.

In Vietnam, a special event will be organized in Danang City to mark World Prematurity Day by the Department of Maternal and Child Health of the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and the Danang Hospital for Women and Children, to honor and recognize the contributions of health workers in newborn care as well as to raise awareness of the challenges surrounding preterm birth and ensure that people are informed about the risks and consequences.

The event is a part of Kimberly-Clark and UNICEF’s project to support the scale-up by the Ministry of Health of newborn care interventions to save the lives of many more newborns in Vietnam.

On this occasion, the Department of Maternal and Child Health affirms that newborns care and neonatal mortality reduction are among the important goals not only for the health sector but also for Vietnam as the country has committed to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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