Health officials improve awareness of premature birth

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Approximately 80 premature babies are delivered in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), at the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) each year, and 15 of them die from different complications.
Consultant Paediatrician at the hospital, Claudine Richardson, also explained that prematurity occurs in cases when the expecting mother is pregnant with two or more children, if she is under significant stress, if there is any presence of infection, chronic medical illness or any other lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, alcohol abuse or other factors which complicate delivery.
“Our plan this year is to bring awareness to prematurity for the babies and their families because they can have long-term effects. Some of these effects are visual impairment, hearing impairment, chronic lung disease, behavioural issues and developmental issues. Help us bring awareness to these little tiny heroes that we have on a daily basis,” Richardson said in a video recording which was posted on the social media page of the Ministry of Health.
The information comes as hospital officials get ready to participate in the global observance of Prematurity Awareness Month, for the very first time. Prematurity Awareness Month is observed in November of each year to raise awareness of premature births and the devastating impact it can have on families. Here in Antigua and Barbuda, the week of activities begins today and concludes on November 17, Premature Awareness Day, under the theme “Taking Care of Tiny Heroes”.
Meanwhile, at least two mothers who gave birth to premature babies also shared their journey and experiences with the public, encouraging others to trust their doctors and follow instructions given to ensure their continued health and that of their young babies.
Girda Baptiste is a mother of three, her first two children, who are much older now, were full-term babies while her last daughter, three-week-old Tammy, was delivered early via emergency Caesarean Section. The mother said she had to visit the Paediatrician Unit at the hospital twice weekly to monitor how her new-born was developing.
 “I had to take four steroids injection for her lungs to get stronger. When the doctor told me that he did not like how my child was growing inside the womb, compared to my other children, I started to do a lot of research about how to take care of my body and other things,” Baptiste said.
In 2016, Cherise Nathaniel gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. The little boy was stillborn while his sister survived. Her now two-year-old daughter was born at 26-weeks and spent 73 days in the NICU.
Nathaniel explained that she dreaded her daily visits to the hospital, not knowing what to expect at any given time, however, through faith in God, the journey was made easier.
“The hardest part was leaving in the daytime, but when I left, I knew that I left her in the capable hands of the doctors and nurses that were in the NICU and they took very good care of her,” the woman said.
Meanwhile, the seven days of activities to commemorate Prematurity Awareness Month, include media day, Socarobics, Educational Lectures and T-Shirt Day.
The main highlight of the week of activities, however, will be on November 17, Prematurity Awareness Day which will see a full day of events at the hospital featuring past and present premature babies as well as their parents. Residents are encouraged to wear purple on November 17 in solidarity with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and to bring awareness to the little tiny heroes who are currently in the Unit.

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