Kitui County in Kenya has joined the rest of the world in marking this year’s World Prematurity Day. The county marled the day by officially launching the newborn unit at the Ikanga Level Three Hospital in the county’s Mutomo District on Thursday, November 24, 2022.

Hundreds of people attended the event held at the Ikanga Market where the Kitui County Deputy Governor Augustine Wambua Kanani was the chief guest.

Kanani was representing Governor Julius Makau Malombe at the function. The event had been organized by the County Health and Sanitation Ministry in partnership with the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), Kenya Red Cross Society, World Vision and PATH among others.

“Parents embrace a powerful therapy. Enable skin-to-contact from the moment of birth” was the theme of this year’s event.

The World Prematurity Day is marked on November 17 each year. It is a global moment to raise awareness of premature birth and the sometimes devastating impact it can have on families.

Governor Malombe’s speech was read by his deputy. “I am delighted to join you today to commemorate this year’s World Prematurity Day.

This day aims to raise awareness on the increasing burden of preterm births related morbidity, mortality and to establish cost effective interventions that can improve the outcome of preterm births and preterm babies,” the governor said in his speech.

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“The event we are celebrating today strives to ensure the families are supported to take care for their hospitalised preterm babies, support them to fulfil their roles and assist them on how to take care of their babies at home after discharge and support healthcare professionals in order to provide evidence-based data, high-quality treatment, timely care for the preterm babies and patient centered care,” the governor said.

And it also strives to strengthen healthcare systems so as to provide the universal access and focus on equitable, high quality, affordable services during and after birth to ensure the survival and health of mothers and newborns, he added.

Malombe said that according to the data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the preterm death is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five years. “Globally, it is estimated about 15 million babies are born prematurely every year,” the governor said, adding that out of the 15 million children, one million children die each year due to the preterm birth complications.

“In Kenya, the preterm birth rate is 12 per cent translating to some 193,000 babies being born prematurely each year, while an estimated 13,300 out of 193,000 children under the age of five years die due to direct preterm complications,” the Kitui County governor went on.

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“In 2021, a total of 37,359 babies were born prematurely nationally and out of them, some 818 preterm babies were from Kitui County,” Malombe said. “Currently our infant mortality rate in Kitui County is at 24.9 per 1000 live births from fourty seven per 1000 live births in 2014 (Mortality at glance – Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2019),” he said.

To ensure our preterm babies survive and prosper, thus reduce the mortality rate, my administration under the Health and Sanitation Ministry has managed to enhance the quality of care for newborns and children under the age of five years.

The ministry has allocated some 116.07 million shillings to implement newborn and child health activities in the county (CIDP 2022 -2027), facilitate capacity building for healthcare of various cadres on handling newborn emergency cases, training on early essentials newborn care, the Kangaroo Mother care, emergency obstetric and newborn care (EMONC) and newborn resuscitation, enhance quality infection prevention and control measures in the newborn/Kangaroo Mother Care Units, Governor Malombe said.

He said the ministry has also managed to benchmark for the best practices at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital and the Africa Inland Church (AIC) Kijabe Mission Hospital in Nairobi on matter preterm babies care among other intervention.

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“For our partners, the CMMB, I am so grateful for your continued support towards provision of sustainable, quality, health solutions to women and children in our county’s Mutomo District.

As part of your global strategic plan to reduce maternal and neo-natal deaths in Mutomo District, my administration takes cognizance of your works towards women and children healthcare in the district,” Malombe said.

We recognise your immense investment in building and equipping of several health facilities in the district, for instance, the Mother Child Health (MCH) Clinic Block at the Mutomo Level Four Hospital, maternity wings at the Kanziku, Kamutei and Kalambani healthcare facilities, training 401 community health volunteers (CHVs) in the areas of sanitation, mother and child health and the WASH.

“Today we have officially opened a state of art the New Born Unit (NBU) at Ikanga Level 4 hospital, which you have built and equipped at tune of 5million shillings. On my part, I pledge my administration’s unequivocal support towards all your healthcare initiatives not only in Mutomo District but across the entire Kitui County,” Malombe said.

As I conclude, I wish to thank the organisers of this event, all our partners, healthcare staff and members of the public for attending the today’s World Prematurity Day commemoration, he said.