Improving survival of preterm babies in low- to middle-income countries – what can we do?
Surviving prematurity poses the greatest challenge in neonatal care in low- to middle-income countries (LMICs). South Africa has not made much progress in improving the survival of preterm babies. Neonatal survival of preterm infants has become a national priority since the serious failure to reach the Millennium Development Goal targets in 2015. High rates of prevention are particularly relevant in LMICs, where the neonatal mortality rate is at its highest owing to a lack of simple and effective measures. Preventing prematurity and related complications begins with a healthy pregnancy. Antenatal care and maternal corticosteroids are antenatal interventions that could improve the survival of preterm babies. Postnatal interventions include: the management of neonatal sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia; prevention of hypothermia after delivery, for example, the plastic bag/wrap and cap, which has been extensively researched and is found to be an effective, low-cost method for reducing hypothermia in preterm infants; the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), including the low-cost CPAP device, which is a cost-effective strategy for providing respiratory support for premature neonates with respiratory distress syndrome; exogenous surfactant; early feeding with breastmilk; and kangaroo mother care. The use of cost-effective, evidence-based interventions can be implemented in LMICs to reduce neonatal mortality.