At least 40,000 of the nearly half a million babies delivered in country’s health facilities annually are born prematurely, a ministry of health and child care official has revealed. Of the pre-term births figure, about 1,200 die before reaching four weeks due to result of mainly pneumonia and prematurity. Speaking during belated world pneumonia and preterm babies’ commemorations in Harare Thursday, director maternal health Bernard Madzima said Zimbabwe was still behind international targets on reducing deaths caused by these conditions.

“Annually we deliver about 400,000 to 500,000 babies and about 10 percent of them are pre-term. That’s a big number,” he said on the side-lines of the commemorations.”These babies when born are susceptible to infections, diarrhoea, temperature and all diseases which kill babies. “At least 55 babies from every 1,000 births die before reaching the age of five. 29 die before reaching four weeks. They (preterm babies) can’t feed normally and need help. “We have a big job to reduce deaths. It doesn’t mean if a baby is born prematurely it means they should die, they should be assisted to live.” According to Madzima, there is need for more resources to ensure conditions required for the babies to survive are met. “There are what we call essential interventions for example kangaroo mother care, use incubators and ensure their environment is clean, each baby has their own bed, they need assisted feeding and the food because they can’t feed on their own. That is done to preserve lives. “Our provincial and district hospitals do not have capacity to deal with the conditions so they end up referring cases to central hospitals and thereby congesting them.” Sustainable Development Goals target reduction of deaths to 12 babies for those under a month old and 25 for the under-fives. “We did not fulfil the Millennium Development Goals. We are behind and we need to step up to get there,” said Madzima. Zimbabwe is among the countries with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Harare Hospital maternity matron Dade Getrude Pedzisai said the institution is overwhelmed with babies needing special care with the key requirements including food, oxygen and medicines. “The beds are few, sometimes we don’t have enough equipment needed for the drips to function properly because these babies need assistance to feed. There are child mothers who also need serious assistance. In one week alone, we can have about 30 pre-term babies,” Pedzisai said. “The nurses are few. We need more resources because there many babies who die. All pre-term babies need oxygen, then we have term babies who also need oxygen so the equipment may not be enough.”

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