WHO says too many babies are born too small

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World Health Organisation has said that more than 20 million babies were born with a low birth weight (less than 2500g; 5.5 pounds) in 2015. 

According to a new research paper developed by experts from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published in The Lancet Global Health, around one in seven of all births worldwide were born with this major health challenge.

The research noted that more than 80 per cent of the world’s 2.5 million newborns who die every year are of low birthweight with those who survive having a greater risk of stuntingand developmental and physical ill- health later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A co-author from the Department of Nutrition at WHO, Dr. Mercedes de Onis said “low birthweight is a complex clinical entity composed of intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth.

“This is why reducing low birthweight requires an understanding of the underlying causes in a given country. For example, in Southern Asia a large proportion of low birthweight babies are born at term, but with intrauterine growth restriction which is associated with maternal undernutrition, including maternal stunting.

“Conversely, preterm birth is the major contributor to low birthweight in settings with many adolescent pregnancies, high prevalence of infection, or where pregnancy is associated with high levels of fertility treatment and caesarean sections (like in USA and Brazil). Understanding and tackling these underlying causes in high-burden countries should be a priority.”

WHO said although, close to three-quarters preterm babies were born in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the problem remains substantial in high-income countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, adding that high-income countries have seen virtually no progress.

While noting affordable, accessible and appropriate healthcare as critical for preventing and treating low birthweight, WHO said that reducing the incidence of low birthweight requires a comprehensive global strategy, which must include improving maternal nutritional status, treating pregnancy-associated conditions, such as pre-eclampsia (hypertensive disease of pregnancy) and providing adequate maternal care, perinatal clinical services and social support. 

“Reductions in death, illness and disability in newborn babies will only be achieved if pregnancy care is fully integrated with appropriate care for low birthweight babies,” WHO stated. 

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