Improving the odds of little miracles: World Prematurity Day calls for global action

It's important to strengthen healthcare systems to improve care for premature babies. Photo: Unsplash/ Sharon Mccutcheon.
It's important to strengthen healthcare systems to improve care for premature babies. Photo: Unsplash/ Sharon Mccutcheon.

World Prematurity Day, which is commemorated this year on Tuesday 17 November, is an important reminder of both the progress achieved so far in the care of babies born prematurely, as well as the immense need for increasing awareness. 

"The theme for World Prematurity Day 2020 is 'Together for babies born too soon: Caring for the future, working together'. Even though we are in a global pandemic, work and awareness to reduce the causes of prematurity and enhance outcomes for these tiny babies are continuing," says Verena Bolton, national coordinator of Netcare Ncelisa Human Milk Bank and Netcare mother and baby wellness clinics.

"This year's campaign emphasises supporting families and healthcare professionals, and strengthening healthcare systems to improve care for premature babies, also known as ‘preemies’."

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Human breast milk bank supports healthier preemies

"This year's World Prematurity Day is an opportune reminder that... little miracles are being born all over the world who have special requirements," says Netcare's general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment, Mande Toubkin. 

With one of the most important preemie necessity being breast milk.

"Breast milk protects against neonatal health conditions such as necrotizing enterocolitis, late-onset sepsis, retinopathy of prematurity and improves neurodevelopmental outcomes," explains Dr Joy Fredericks the head of the neonatal division at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital (RMMCH). 

And while moms are frequently urged to breastfeed, Dr Fredericks says "unfortunately this is not always possible and this is when the substantial benefits of donor breast milk are important."

In February 2019, Netcare Ncelisa Human Milk Banks started providing breast milk to hospitals in the public sector, including Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital (RMMCH) and more recently Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH). 

Also read: 'Our little miracle': Baby Marique gets to go home after spending more than 100 days in hospital

'Donor breast milk has saved the lives of many of our precious premature babies'

Breastmilk is donated by eligible women who are breastfeeding and have excess milk, which they express under specific hygienic conditions and deliver it to Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks or depots based at 37 facilities. The milk is then pasteurised, tested, frozen and safely stored.

Through Netcare Ncelisa human milk banks, the Netcare Foundation supplies this milk free of charge for certain identified premature and underweight newborns with compromised health, both within the public and private sectors.

Dr Fredericks says that since the inception of this public-private initiative, the RMMCH has seen premature babies' hospital stays shortened, a decline in the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis and improved survival rates for premature and underweight babies.

Dr Tanusha Ramdin, senior neonatologist and acting head of the CMJAH neonatal unit, adds: "Donor breast milk has saved the lives of many of our precious premature babies."

"Through collaboration, knowledge sharing and careful adherence to international best practice, and medical intervention [we can] assist premature babies to thrive," concludes Toubkin. 

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