Middle East

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JEDDAH: World Prematurity Day, which is observed Nov. 17 each year to raise awareness of preterm birth, was recently celebrated in a Saudi hospital with parents accompanied by their children who were born a little earlier than expected.

Some 25,000 babies are born prematurely in Saudi Arabia each year, according to a mid-2020 report from the General Authority for Statistics. Approximately 15 million babies are delivered preterm worldwide each year, accounting for about one in 10 of all babies born.

According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, but preterm birth is a global problem. In lower-income countries, on average, 12 percent of babies are born too early compared with 9 percent in higher-income countries, the report said. Poorer families are at higher risk, the report added.

Dr. Sawsan Hussein Daffa, consultant neonatologist and head of pediatrics at the Aya Specialist Hospital, told Arab News that nearly four percent of the total yearly births in Saudi Arabia fell into this category. 

Daffa said that a prematurely born child can cost the Health Ministry or an insurance company up to SR100,000 ($26,667), adding that a preterm may need to stay in an incubator for 2 to 4 months.

Speaking during World Prematurity Day 2019, the consultant noted that any child born before 36 weeks of the gestational age is called premature.

“The particularly small babies are placed in incubators for a period of time ranging from 30 to 60 days,” she said. “This can cost government hospitals/insurance companies around SR60,000. Some others are placed there for longer periods and can even cost SR100,000.”

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However, Daffa said that up to 28 percent of premature babies die due to complications.

She added a special vaccine given to premature babies could protect them against the respiratory syncytial virus, which normally hits premature infants from October to March.


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