What are the Issues with Preterm Babies that Malawi Must Face?

When a baby is born before thirty-seven weeks (roughly 8.5 months) of pregnancy, they are referred to as preterm births [1]. In most cases, such babies go directly into the incubator because they are considered not ready to survive the harsh environment outside the mother’s womb. Many cases of babies born in as little as 28 weeks of pregnancy have been seen. Malawi is often in the spotlight for the preterm birth problem [2], for reasons that shall be unveiled in this piece.

Causes of Preterm Babies

While there is no definite cause of preterm birth, infections and chronic ailments such as HBP and diabetes are thought to be contributing factors [3]. Some fingers point at multiple pregnancies and genetic factors as well. Other common causes include poor gestational nutrition, toxic practices like smoking and alcoholism in pregnancy, and uterus abnormalities, just to name a few.

The Malawi Case

On the entire globe, Malawi is known to record the highest cases of preterm births each year. If fertility data from the United Nations Organization was anything to go by, some schools of thought could have one solid argument. They could argue that the high preterm birth incidence is related to the significantly high fertility rate witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa over the past few years.

Well, nothing is further from the truth. As scientific reports indicate, Malawi Births between 2015 and 2020 was 3 million, which we can see in the figure below from this insurance organisation, which is comparable to the UK and Germany. The sad part is that only a small portion of kids born too soon in Malawi survive to narrate their story.

Preterm Birth Challenges in Malawi

Many babies die soon after being born prematurely in this sub-Saharan nation, and a few issues are to blame. Some of these may include but are not limited to.

  • The lack of adequate resources for maternal health counseling
  • Inadequate healthcare infrastructure
  • Poor supply and administration of the steroid drug dexamethasone in maternal health facilities

When mothers in preterm labor are injected with the above-mentioned steroid, it increases the survival chance of the newborn. Malawi might have a considerable supply of nurses who can inject the drug to needy mothers on time, but the major problem seems to revolve around the supply of the drug. This is perhaps one of the reasons why almost a third of all neonatal deaths in Malawi stem from preterm death complications.

Government Intervention

Well, sources indicate that the government in the southeastern African country is taking steps to lower neonatal death rates. Among these include the Kangaroo mother care, an approach widely employed in caring for preterm infants in Malawi from the point of birth. Nonetheless, a lot of gaps still need to be sealed because not much has changed more than a decade after the KMC was adopted back in the early 2000s. Clearly, more needs to be done to protect the lives of newborns in this region of the African map.

Looking at the above pointers, a few questions should linger in the minds of experts. What else can be done? How much needs to be spent on resourcing, and what are the expected results? With answers to the questions, many of the preterm birth challenges in Malawi can be solved while increasing the survival chances of children born too soon in the country.


[1]. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preterm-birth

[2]. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-014-0399-6

[3]. https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12978-016-0230-0