MANILA, Philippines–The good news is more preterm infants are surviving in the Philippines despite insufficient hospital facilities.
But the bad news is that more premature babies are being born as teenage pregnancies continue to rise in the country.
The Philippine Society of Newborn Medicine (PSNbM), an organization of pediatricians and neonatologists in the country, on Thursday launched a campaign, “Hinga/Hingalo ni Baby,” to raise awareness of and urge action on prematurity as a national health issue.
The Philippines ranks second in the number of premature births in Southeast Asia, eighth worldwide and 17th in deaths arising from preterm birth complications, according to neonatologist Dr. Carina Quimbo, president of PSNbM.
“We have about 368,000 premature births in the Philippines. How many do survive? As of now, survival of premature babies is getting higher. But more premature births are coming because we have a lot of teenaged mothers delivering premature infants,” Quimbo told a press briefing yesterday.
Based on the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey, the rate of infant mortality decreased to 13 deaths per 1,000 live births, from 18 newborn deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998.
Records from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) showed that in the Philippines, 48 percent of children who die under the age of 5 are newborns and 39 percent of these die from preterm complications, the leading cause of newborn mortality.
In 2011, at least 31 preterm babies died every day due to complications—for a total of 11,290 deaths for that year, according to Unicef.
Dr. Anthony Calibo, officer in charge of the Department of Health children’s health development division, said teenage mothers were more susceptible to deliver preterm babies because of several “high-risk” factors.
Most of them are undernourished and deficient in iron and folic acid, which are among the important nutrients for pregnancy, said Calibo.
“Of course, there’s also high-risk behavior. Some of them are smoking… [while] some could probably have engaged in multiple sexual partners, [increasing] the risk of genital infection being transmitted to the newborn,” he added.
In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund reported that teenage pregnancies jumped by 70 percent over the last 10 years, giving the Philippines the highest teenage pregnancy rate among Asean’s six major economies.