Health experts push for dietary changes to stem stillbirths

Across the world, a troubling statistic reveals that one in every four babies face the risk of being born underweight or prematurely. This dire circumstance contributes to 1.9 million stillbirths and 1.4 million newborns tragically losing their lives, the Lancet Series report notes.

However, there is hope amidst this somber revelation. The report adds that by implementing preventive measures, such as promoting healthy eating habits, the world has the potential to avert around 560,000 stillbirths and 5.2 million preterm births each year.

Studies show that children born prematurely, with low birth weight face higher risks throughout their journey from birth into childhood. They not only confront risk of neonatal death but also grapple with a host of morbidities that cast long shadows into their lives.

These challenges do not merely affect individual lives; they ripple through families and societies, exacting a toll on both human and economic capital.

To tackle preterm births and stillbirths, The Lancet is proposing measures encompassing both preventive and curative healthcare strategies, to safeguard the well-being of expectant mothers and their babies.

For pregnant women, adopting a well-balanced diet is of paramount importance. This diet should encompass a diverse range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. Furthermore, specific nutrients such as calcium, fiber, iron, and folate-rich foods are particularly vital during pregnancy.

The Lancet Series Small Vulnerable Newborns report estimates that the cost of implementing these crucial measures will amount to $1.1 billion by 2030. By embracing interventions such as incorporating healthy protein snacks, preventing malaria during pregnancy, and encouraging smoking cessation among women, countries can significantly reduce infant mortality rates.

Additionally, providing vitamins and treating infections, even in asymptomatic cases, forms part of the comprehensive approach.

Dr. Abdu Mohiddin from the Aga Khan University underlines the urgency of this issue, stating, “Twenty percent of babies born in Sub-Saharan Africa face the vulnerability of being small or born prematurely, yet prevention is within our reach. This is a challenge we must collectively confront.”

One significant obstacle highlighted in the Lancet Series report is the difficulty policymakers face in obtaining reliable data on neonatal trends across Sub-Saharan Africa. Addressing this data gap is crucial for informed decision-making and effective interventions.

Read Also: From roads to noodles soup; how China is shifting to ‘small is good’

Small Vulnerable Newborns consortium

To tackle this pressing issue, the Small Vulnerable Newborns consortium comprising organizations like The Lancet, the Aga Khan University, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and John Hopkins University, has been established.

The Aga Khan University has been at the core of this development, particularly its Centre of
Excellence in Women and Child Health, East Africa.

Together, these stakeholders aim to explore diverse pathways to prevent babies from being born “too small” or “too early.” The report was initially unveiled during the International Maternal Newborn Health Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, in May.

This global forum serves as a platform for academics, researchers, healthcare professionals, policy experts, and parents of small vulnerable newborns to come together, exchange insights, and propose strategies to address this critical challenge.

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