Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1420, (29 November - 5 December 2018)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1420, (29 November - 5 December 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Violet Pyramids for pre-term babies

Mai Samih watches as the Pyramids are lit in violet to raise awareness of pre-term births


photo: REUTERS

Pre-term babies are babies that are born before their due date, and in some cases some of their organs are under-developed so they need special care in order to be able to grow. After birth they are often put in incubators, or special machines which help them to breathe for the first weeks of their lives or until they can do so independently. In Egypt, some 20 per cent of all births are now pre-term, and this has caused various NGOs to launch public-awareness campaigns.

One such campaign has been organised by Helmena wa Han Haqako (We Shall Fulfill our Dream), the Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development, represented by the “You are More Important” Campaign, the Port Said Organisation for the Newly Born, and the Ibny Al-Badri (My Son Born Too Soon) Campaign, all NGOs, to help raise awareness about the dangers of early births and to help the families of pre-term babies care for their children.

An event marking part of the campaign was launched from the Pyramids Sound and Light Area on the Giza Plateau after the Pyramids themselves were lit up in violet to mark International Pre-term Baby Day on 17 November. It was attended by actor Hassan Al-Raddad.

“We are celebrating International Pre-term Baby Day, in order to benefit babies born after 24 weeks and before 37 weeks of pregnancy. These are children who have been born before their due date, and we are raising awareness of them because they may suffer from medical problems, high rates of mortality, and have high medical bills,” said Abla Al-Alfi, a professor of paediatrics in Cairo and founder of the Ibny Al-Badri Campaign.

“There are reasons why mothers may go into early labour, and pre-term births can be prevented from happening. What we are trying to do is to raise awareness of such issues among the wider population,” she added.

“Many countries around the world hold pre-natal clinics to raise the awareness of mothers on how to decrease the risk of early births. If a child is born pre-term, we can still help the mother take good care of him, of course, notably by showing a mother how to practice skin-to-skin contact with her child. A mother can even stay near the baby’s bed and hold her child with much the same results,” Al-Alfi said, adding that such simple teåçchniques could help to reduce infant mortality even if they could not solve other problems of pre-term births.

“The slogan of our campaign is Ehdoney teksabey [Hug Him, Gain Him],” she added, saying that such techniques have been practised outside Egypt since the 1970s.

“Pre-term children may åget infections, grow slowly, or need artificial milk. However, if mothers naturally breast feed their babies it is much better for them. If a mother maintains skin-to-skin contact with her baby, particularly a pre-term baby, this will reduce infections and will help to regulate the baby’s temperature to bring it closer to that of its mother’s body. It will grow faster and its breathing will be better as well.”

Amr Hassan, coordinator of the National Population Council and founder of the “You are More Important” Campaign, said it was very important to raise the awareness of mothers about the dangers of early births due to the problems such children can face, including underdevelopment and medical problems not suffered to the same extent by other children.

“An expecting mother should visit a doctor on a regular basis to monitor her pregnancy. A doctor should also have a record of her medical history. She should also avoid smoking and early pregnancy,” he said.

“In Egypt, we have double the number of pre-term children of other countries around the world. In 2016, the percentage of pre-term children in Egypt was 20 per cent, while it was only 10 per cent in many other countries. This means that among the 2.6 million children born each year in Egypt, 500,000 of them are pre-term. They account for 47 per cent of all infant deaths,” Al-Alfi noted.

Such events can have devastating psychological effects on families, especially women anticipating motherhood, she added.

Celebrating International Pre-term Baby Day at the foot of the Pyramids

TREATING THE PROBLEM: There are things expecting mothers can do to avoid having a pre-term child, however.

“A girl who is pregnant in her teens has a 45 per cent chance of having a pre-term baby. Mothers that have Caesarean sections while giving birth usually deliver their children too soon as well,” Al-Alfi said.

“In fact, the increasing number of Caesarean section procedures in Egypt is also a problem. Some 63 per cent of women in Egypt have such procedures while giving birth, even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that this should not exceed 20 per cent. Malnutrition can also be a cause of pre-term births, including iron deficiency,” she said.

“This is why we must give girls iron supplements to prevent iron deficiency. Infections in a woman’s reproductive channel and urinary tract can also cause early births, as can stress during pregnancy. These are all controllable, but they still represent almost 70 per cent of cases of early births.”  

“Our campaign has three main aims: to increase awareness; to train doctors and nurses working in incubation units on treating pre-term babies well; and to assist the parents of pre-term children on caring for their children financially and medically,” Al-Alfi said.

The current NGO Campaign has also organised an event in the Merryland Park in Heliopolis in Cairo in which the mothers of former pre-term children and their children, now aged six or seven, also took part. It also featured a marathon, a play called Naseha [clever] and her Child Badri [early born], and lectures to raise the awareness of mothers on how to care for pre-term children. The mothers of pre-term children were also given awards.

The campaign wants to encourage all mothers to avoid Caesarean procedures and to try to give birth naturally. A sub-campaign entitled Khodi Haqek wa edilo haqo (Obtain Your Rights and Give Him His) hopes to encourage spacing between births and stress the importance of the first 1,000 days in a newborn baby’s life.

“We want to tell each mother that in the first two years of the life of a child he needs her to care for him,” Al-Alfi said, adding that this was a medium-term strategy that would be followed at least for the next five years.

“Today we are lighting the Pyramids and the Sphinx in violet to mark the start of the campaign. Our ancestors the ancient Egyptians are a source of wisdom, and we plan to follow in their footsteps by preventing early births,” she concluded.

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