Urgent progress on low birth weight needed

21 May 2019 | Health

Namibia's estimated prevalence of low birth weight stood at 15.5% in 2015, which is higher than that of the African region, which has a prevalence rate of 13.7%.

According to the first-ever estimates documenting this major health challenge in 2015, about 11 100 babies were born with a low birth rate (less than 2 500 g) in Namibia.

Although the prevalence rate dropped slightly from 16.5% in 2000, the number of affected babies increased to 9 800 in that year.

This is according to the new report, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Low Birth Weight Estimates: Levels and trends 2000-2015.

The report says that one in seven, or 20.5 million babies worldwide, were born with a low birth weight in 2015.

“Babies born at a healthy weight are more likely to survive and thrive, while babies born at a low weight enter the world at a marked disadvantage.

“Low birth weight newborns have a higher risk of dying in the first 28 days of life and those who survive are more likely to suffer from stunted growth and a lower IQ.

“The consequences of low birth weight also continue into adulthood, increasing the risk of adult onset chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes,” the report states.

The new estimates reveal stagnated progress on reducing the prevalence of low birth weight between 2000 and 2015, with deceleration of the annual rate of progress in the 2010 to 2015 period compared with the 2000 to 2009 period.

“Progress on reducing low birth weight has been limited in all regions and sub-regions, for both prevalence and numbers of children affected.”

The report says this is the first time such estimates have been made available globally, making it possible to track progress.

It points out that birth weight data were not available for nearly one third or 39.7 million newborns globally in 2015, with Africa accounting for over half of these.

Looking at the estimated low birth weight prevalence in some of Namibia's neighbouring countries, Zambia had a prevalence of 11.6%, Zimbabwe 12.6%, South Africa 14.2%, Angola 15.3% and Botswana 15.6% in 2015.

“Important work lies ahead. The annual average rate of reduction (AARR) in low birth weight is 1% per year in the most recent period from 2010 to 2015.

“But an AARR of 2.74% per year between 2012 and 2025 is required to meet the global target of 10.5% low birth weight prevalence,” the report says.

ELLANIE SMIT

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