Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) today joins the international community in observing World Prematurity Day, which aims to bring attention and urgency to global initiatives to address preterm birth and improve healthcare outcomes for mothers and their newborn babies.
In recognition of the day, HMC’s Women’s Hospital held a special gathering on 14 November for about 40 families of babies who have been treated at the Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The gathering gave the families an opportunity to meet each other and share their experiences in the NICU and celebrate this day together with their children and NICU staff.
Preterm birth is the birth of a baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely each year, accounting for more than one in 10 of all babies born worldwide. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in newborn babies worldwide, as well as the cause of high rates of severe lifetime impairments.
The prevention of preterm births is a critical aim of obstetrics in patient care and in research globally, and is among the priority areas of Qatar’s National Health Strategy for maternal and child health. Preterm births at HMC hospitals currently stand at about eight percent of all births every year, but significant improvements in the quality of healthcare for both mothers and newborn babies have resulted in declining death rates among mothers and newborns in the country.
Some of the risk factors for premature birth include any history of preterm labor and delivery, multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets or more) by assisted reproduction techniques, genital tract infection, gum disease, and abnormalities in the uterus. Other factors may include obesity and its associated diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, elective induction of labor and/or elective caesarean sections that occur before 39 weeks of pregnancy are completed. Very young mothers such as those below 18 years of age, and those who have babies at a later age (older than 34 years) are also at greater risk.
Dr. Hilal Al Rifai, Women’s Hospital (WH) Medical Director and Director of its Neonatal/Perinatal Services and the Qatar Newborn Screening Program explained, “The earlier a baby is born, the more severe his or her health problems are likely to be. Preterm babies require multiple specialist care and can spend a long time in the NICU. At HMC, we ensure that the babies receive the best possible care from a multidisciplinary healthcare team which attends to both the baby’s medical and developmental needs.”
“We also believe wholeheartedly in practicing family-centered care. This includes listening to and acting on observations that the families make, respecting cultural differences, and involving families in day-to-day decision making. In general, family-centered care is an approach to health care that respects each family's individual values, needs, cultures, resources, and strengths. Professionals and families recognize and respect the knowledge that each bring to the care of the baby, and work together to provide the best possible outcome,” said Dr. Al Rifai. WH handles most cases of preterm births at HMC’s hospitals.
Dr. Al Rifai added that pre-pregnancy consultation is an important aspect of prenatal care for women or couples who are planning to have a child. The process can be crucial in the early detection and management of any health issues that increase the risk for preterm labor and delivery – a very serious complication of pregnancy that can strike quickly and silently.
He said that women can seek a referral from their primary healthcare doctor to avail of high-quality maternity care services at WH and other HMC hospitals including Al Khor Hospital, Al Wakra Hospital and The Cuban Hospital.
Early detection is important to help prevent preterm birth and give the baby a better chance of survival. HMC urges pregnant women to watch out for sudden and persistent warning signs of preterm labor such as lower back ache, contractions every 10 minutes or more, menstrual-like cramping, flu-like symptoms, increased pressure in the pelvis (lower abdomen) or vagina, fluid leaking or increased vaginal discharge and/or light bleeding. Any expectant woman observing these signs should seek immediate professional medical assistance or dial 999 for HMC’s Ambulance Service.