Rising Low Birthweight Now Public Health Priority – WHO

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Immediate past Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole
By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos

Rising low birthweight worldwide has become a public health problem, World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
“Too many babies are born too small,” WHO stressed.
According to it, around one in seven of all babies worldwide are born with a low birthweight.
More than 80 per cent of the world’s 2.5 million newborns who die every year are of low birthweight, the global authority on public health stated.
Those low birthweight babies who survive have a greater risk of stunting, and developmental and physical ill health later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, WHO warned.
These findings and more are documented in a new research paper developed by experts from the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published in The Lancet Global Health.
“Low birthweight is a complex clinical entity composed of intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth,” explained co-author Dr. Mercedes de Onis from the Department of Nutrition at WHO.
“This is why reducing low  birthweight requires an understanding of the underlying causes in a given country.  For example, in Southern Asia a large proportion of low birthweight babies are born at term but with intrauterine growth restriction, which is associated with maternal undernutrition, including maternal stunting,” the WHO chief said.
Onis pointed out that conversely, preterm birth is the major contributor to low birthweight in settings with many adolescent pregnancies, high prevalence of infection, or where pregnancy is associated with high levels of fertility treatment and caeserean sections.
Onis declared that understanding and tackling those underlying causes in high-burden countries should be a priority.
WHO said: Affordable, accessible and appropriate healthcare is critical for preventing and treating low birthweight.  Reductions in death, illness and disability in newborn babies will only be achieved if pregnancy care is fully integrated with appropriate care for low birthweight babies.

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