Health minister announces new steps to tackle premature births‚ infant mortality

Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Thursday marked World Prematurity Day‚ announcing new programmes aimed at reducing premature births and child mortality.

One of these is the extension of MomConnect‚ an SMS-based service aimed at providing information to pregnant women‚ new mothers and nurses about pregnancy‚ childbirth and the first year of life of a baby.

The service also encourages mothers to book antenatal consultations as early as possible in their pregnancies.

Globally‚ an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm every year‚ and this number is increasing‚ according to the World Health Organization.

Prematurity is when a child is born at less than 37 weeks’ gestation. Preterm births are the leading cause of neonatal mortality‚ with about 11 000 babies dying in the first month of life in SA.

The Department of Health used Thursday’s event to celebrate having had one million mothers joining the MomConnect platform that was started in August 2014.

MomConnect provides mothers with information on what sort of problems they can expect at certain stages during pregnancy.

It was pioneered by the department‚ with the support of Johnson & Johnson‚ ELMA Philanthropies and the United States government.

To date the initiative has grown into the largest programme of its kind to be implemented by a government on a nationwide basis in the world.

Since its inception‚ MomConnect has disseminated messages to over a million pregnant women‚ and trained 34 887 health workers.

SA is currently expanding MomConnect to reach nurses and midwives to equip them with educational and motivational information.

However‚ NurseConnect has been operating since May‚ providing text messages to nurses who take care of pregnant mothers.

“Programmes like MomConnect and NurseConnect create vital links between healthcare providers and new and pregnant mothers‚” said Motsoaledi‚ speaking from Kgabo Community Health Centre‚ Tshwane‚ the site of Thursday’s commemorative event.

“These links are the best way to reduce the incidence of premature births‚ and to reduce both infant and maternal mortality rates‚” he said.

NurseConnect is aimed at engaging health workers and improving the care given to pregnant women by over 10‚000 nurses registered on the platform.

The platform provides free maternal and child health messaging‚ which are designed for healthcare workers and are therefore more detailed and technical than the messages sent to moms through MomConnect.

Motsoaledi also launched a digital version of the Road to Health Booklet which is given to a mother on the birth of her child. The booklet is both a record‚ and a source of information.

“Prematurity is one of the three major causes of new-born deaths in South Africa‚” Motsoaledi said. “The NDOH will continue to work in partnership with its stakeholders to improve new-born care and the health and nutrition of children under five.”

The minister announced the development of the UmbiFlow apparatus‚ a simple hand held device that uses ultrasound waves to assess blood flow in the umbilical cord of unborn babies.

This tool‚ which was developed by the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Centre for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR)‚ makes it possible to assess the function of the placenta and the growth of the baby in the mother’s womb.
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