World Prematurity Day ‘now deserves UN recognition’ globally

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Founder of the Doris Mollel Foundation Ms Doris Mollel. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Approximately 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely annually and need special attention to stay healthy.

Dar es Salaam. As people around the globe mark World Prematurity Day today, the Doris Mollel Foundation (DMF) has appealed for the commemoration to be included in the United Nations (UN) calendar.

That would help to increase public awareness and end problems related to prematurity as well as ensure that the rights of premature babies are addressed.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a baby is premature if they are born before 37 weeks.

Approximately 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely annually and need special attention to stay healthy.

World Prematurity Day is observed on every November 17 after it was initiated by the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) and partnering European parent organisations in 2008.

Later, international organisations, namely LittleBigSouls (Africa), March of Dimes (USA), and National Premmie Foundation (Australia), joined the celebrations and made World Prematurity Day an intercontinental movement.

In 2014, WHO joined global commemorators of the World Prematurity Day every year to raise awareness of premature birth and its impact on families.

Today, thousands of individuals and organisations from 125 countries join forces with activities, special events and commit to action to help address pre-term birth and improve the situation of pre-term babies and their families.

DMF, a non-governmental organisation aiming to promote public awareness about prematurity, says it is important for the day to be recognised by the UN as several of its member states were already commemorating it.

DMF founder and executive director Doris William Mollel said if the pre-term babies were incorporated in the UN calendar, more people would support the campaign of making sure the vulnerable groups get the right to live which they currently lack due to scarcity of equipment.

“If this day is recognised by the UN, it will emphasise to member states that they should allocate budgets for pre-term birth and set policies that will help to reduce infant deaths of which many are premature,” she said.

Ms Mollel added that she has written to UN deputy secretary-general of the United Nations Amina Mohammed, asking that the day be included in the UN calendar to further promote international awareness and action on prematurity around the globe.

DMF has also collaborated with the Unicef national ambassador for the DR Congo and president of the Fally Ipupa Foundation, Mr Fally Ipupa, to appeal for the UN to advocate the rights of premature babies.

“We urge you as the leader of the United Nations, which was established to conquer disease, promote better living standards and improve the lives of poor people, to fulfil the promise of the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health of changing the future for millions of babies born too soon, their mothers and families, and indeed entire countries,” the appeal signed by Ms Mollel and Mr Ipupa reads in part.

“With more than three-quarters of the United Nations member states commemorating this day and the World Health Organization acknowledging its existence. It is the right time for this time to be formally included in the United Nations calendar,” it adds.

Ms Mollel said that although it has been three years since the appeal was sent to the UN, it has not been answered yet, which has driven her to make it public again so that it can get international attention.

The appeal was sent to the UN in 2021 to be reviewed during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 77) by the member states.

Committed to ending the problems related to prematurity in Tanzania, DMF in cooperation with the government, has donated medical equipment to 69 hospitals in 26 regions over the past six years, with donations worth over Sh1 billion.

DMF also has participated in preparing a report named ‘Born too soon: decade of action on pre-term birth, produced by WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) that looks to the future, setting an ambitious agenda to reduce the burden of pre-term birth by addressing factors outside of the health system that affect pre-term birth. It was launched in May, this year.

In supporting efforts to save the lives of premature babies like the DMF, the government has committed that it will continue to improve reproductive and child health services in the country to decrease the neonatal mortality rate.

This was said by President Samia Suluhu Hassan last month when she unveiled the 2022 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey which indicated a drop in neonatal mortality although the rate is 24 deaths per 1,000 live births, higher than the target of 12 by 2030. The report indicates that about one in 23 children in Tanzania do not survive to their fifth birthday.

Since 1991/92, under-5 mortality has declined from 141 deaths per 1,000 live births to the current rate of 43 deaths per 1,000 live births.

In addition to the launch of the report, President Hassan also distributed 123 sets of equipment for the care of premature and underweight infants.