NOVEMBER 17 marked annual World Premature Day and health professionals and institutions did their bit to raise awareness about the serious health issue which is often overlooked but affects many families every year.According to the World Health Organisation, premature births account for 15 million births annually and, in turn, 1.1 million preterm babies die every year. It is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. Babies born too early (before 37 weeks) may have more health issues than babies born on time, and may face long-term health problems that affect the brain, the lungs, hearing, or vision.Speaking on the annual international observation day, spokesperson for the Department of Health Agiza Hlongwane said preterm babies can experience a series of challenges. Some of these include staying warm, feeding, breathing, infections, brain injuries due to lack of oxygen, and problems with their eyes since they are not ready for the outside world.Simangele Mqadi, from Gcilima, lost her daughter, who was born at 23 weeks, earlier this month. She said the loss is something one never fully recovers from.“When I was 23 weeks pregnant I was admitted at Murchison Hospital and they told me they would have to opt for preterm birth because my placenta was damaged and the baby could not grow properly from inside me,” said Mqadi. She said on November 6 she was transferred to Port Shepstone Hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl, however she was told the baby’s lungs had not yet developed properly, making it difficult for the baby to have a strong heartbeat. Nonetheless, the hopeful team said they would incubate the baby, as they do with all preterm babies. Sadly the following day her heart gave in and she died at about 7 am on November 7. “Finding out about the death of my child was the most painful experience I have ever had because even though we were told she may or may not make it, I was still hopeful because I had seen her alive and even informed the family. “She was given a name and I had even started preparing my life around staying at the hospital with her for the next three months. “The shock of her death is something I don’t know if I will ever fully recover from, however as the weeks go by and my physical scars start to heal, so do the emotional ones too,” said Mqadi. Walking away from the hospital the next day to bury her daughter, Mqadi says she took with her the painful reality of the difficulties of preterm births. “I was very shocked to find out that many women went through a similar experience, even at the hospital I was not the only one who gave birth to a premature baby, and while some of them survive, still many others did not,” said Mqadi.