In an initiative led by Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), iconic buildings in Qatar, including the Torch Hotel, Sheraton Grand Doha Resort and Convention Hotel and the main entrance of Al Wakra Hospital, were lit up in purple this November to mark World Prematurity Day. 

The event aims to raise awareness of premature births and show compassion and support for patients and families with babies born a little too soon.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year, an estimated 15 million babies (one in 10) are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation), and this number is rising. WHO said that preterm birth occurs for a variety of reasons. Most preterm births happen spontaneously, but some are due to early induction of labour or caesarean birth, whether for medical or non-medical reasons.

Common causes of preterm birth include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure; in most cases, no specific cause was identified.

This year’s theme, ‘Together for babies born too soon … caring for the future’, highlights the significant impact of healthcare professionals, organisations and communities working together to improve the outcome for preterm babies and their families.

HMC World Prematurity Day 2020Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) across the different HMC facilities commemorate this day as premature babies are their core patient group. NICU staff from the Women’s Wellness and Research Center (WWRC) and Al Wakra Hospital had their staff donning purple shirts and masks as a symbol of the day –  for sensitivity and exceptionality. In WWRC’s NICU alone, around 50% of their 2,540 total admissions last year were babies born prematurely.

Staff at WWRC’s NICU observed the day with poster displays and video clips of mothers of premature babies sharing their babies’ journey through NICU. One of the mothers, Nilushika Jayangani Weerasekera, who was diagnosed with COVID-19, expressed her gratitude to the hospital’s NICU team for taking care of her preterm son and the staff of Hazm Mubarak Hospital for their support throughout her hospital stay.

My son was due in November but was delivered prematurely in August. This was because I was unfortunately diagnosed with COVID-19 and I had severe pneumonia and needed intubation. So, my baby had to be born early in order to save him and prevent complications.

Weerasekera described the time away from her baby as ‘a difficult moment’ as she and her husband were unable to see him for at least a month because they were both sick with COVID-19.

Because I contracted COVID-19, I was admitted and intubated at Hazm Mubarak Hospital while the baby was in the NICU. So, one month after, when I had fully recovered from COVID-19, I went to see my baby.

She was excited to see the baby for the first time and thankful to the NICU staff for looking after the newborn. She said she was grateful for their support throughout her son’s stay at the NICU.

It’s obvious to me that the NICU staff understood what I had gone through by making me feel comfortable and loved. I am also thankful to the mum who volunteered to donate her breastmilk to my son when I was unable to breastfeed him. I can’t thank her enough for her selfless love and generosity.

According to Dr Hilal Al Rifai, A/Chief Executive and Medical Director of WWRC, HMC’s Neonatal Intensive Care has made great progress in the management of premature babies and delivered the best possible outcomes, putting Qatar at the forefront in achieving record top level survival worldwide.

The NICU tertiary centre, while still in its previous home at the Women’s Hospital, won the Managing Director’s Award at the Star of Excellence Awards in 2015 for its great advances in the care of premature babies and the establishment of the Tiny Baby Unit. This is in addition to the success of the ‘Golden Hour’ programme which focuses on delivering the best expert multi-disciplinary resuscitation and stabilisation with outstanding great success in the management of premature babies.

Dr Al Rifai noted that the achievements of NICU wouldn’t have been possible without the support from Qatar’s leadership and the Minister of Public Health, HE Dr Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari.

The generosity and care for humanity by the State of Qatar has made this service for pre-term births in Qatar completely free of charge for all residents and citizens.

To ensure current and past mums as well as families of premature babies receive well-rounded support and encouragement every step of the way, a support group of parents called Sanadk, was formed and inaugurated in Qatar. The group was led by a small multi-disciplinary committee comprising physicians, psychologists, social workers and lactation consultants. The group regularly meets to offer support to new mums and share their experiences.

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