Preterm births cause half the infant mortality in Vietnam

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Premature babies receive light therapy at Tu Du Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City

Babies are being born prematurely at an increasing rate in Vietnam and now account for around half of the country's infant mortality, doctors in Ho Chi Minh City said at a recent conference.

The Prenatal and Neonatal Association of Ho Chi Minh City said Vietnam has been listed among 42 countries with highest rates of infant mortality, amounting to roughly 63,000 deaths each year, more than half of which are newborns.

Premature birth and resulting complications caused 50 percent of the country's infant mortality cases, while the rest died due to infection, choking and congenital defects, an association representative said in a Lao Dong newspaper report November 27.

The doctors define premature babies as those born before the 37th week of pregnancy.

Most premature babies weigh less than 1.5 kilograms. They tend to suffer from respiratory difficulties; sudden drops in body temperature; infections resulting from a weak immune system; metabolism disorders that cause drastic drops of calcium levels; digestive disorders; retina diseases that can lead to blindness; and deafness.

Dr Ngo Minh Xuan, head of the newborn department at Tu Du, a leading obstetrics hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, said at the conference "Premature babies need one week to get as much nutrition that they receive in one day inside the womb."

Xuan said between 100,000 and 120,000 babies are born premature in Vietnam every year, some of them weighing as little as 600 grams.

The number of premature babies in southern Vietnam has increased in recent years, from between 500 and 700 for several years running, to 1,008 in 2010.

Xuan told the story of a mother from the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre who gave birth to twins in her 27th week of pregnancy. Doctors could only save one, who weighed 900 grams at birth, and had to receive intensive care at Tu Du for a month. Premature babies require the kangaroo treatment, which involves having skin-to-skin contact with an adult.

Doctors said premature birth can be caused by a litany of factors related to the health of pregnant women.

Women with cervical complications, multiple embryos, too much amniotic fluid and infections within the urinary or respiratory system are all predisposed to having premature babies. Also, pregnant women who use tobacco, alcohol or other addictive substances, those who are overworked, are diabetic, under the age of 14 and over 40 are also more likely to give birth prematurely.

Premature births can be prevented through better education, but poverty and the lack of prenatal checkups have worsened the situation, Xuan said.

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