Cambodia has the highest prevalence of underweight newborns among nearly 30 countries studied in a new medical report.
But the untimely births of too-small infants is attributable more to the mother’s medical conditions than to frequently scapegoated socioeconomic factors, according to the study by Japan’s National Center for Child Health and Development.
Some 19 per cent of Cambodia’s recorded hospital births resulted in infants small for their gestational age – or the number of weeks they were carried. The rate was followed by Nepal at 17 per cent, then Palestine and Japan. Afghanistan had the lowest observed prevalence.
The premature, underweight births were found to correlate with illnesses afflicting the mothers, like pre-eclampsia – a high blood pressure condition that can lead to seizures – rather than development indices. Around 31 per cent of the preterm and too-small babies delivered in Cambodian hospitals were born to mothers ill with pre-eclampsia or the more severe form, eclampsia.
“Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are one of the leading causes of maternal deaths around the world, not just in Cambodia,” said Dr Tung Rathavy, director of the National Maternal and Child Health Centre.
But while a country’s income level may not be among the risk factors causing premature babies to be born too small, the wealth component certainly has much to do with whether the mother and infant can survive to the baby’s first birthday.
“The quality of neonatal intensive care is vital to prevent mortality,” the study stays.
But in Cambodia, where the maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world at an estimated 206 deaths per 1,000 births, just over half of pregnant women receive the four internationally recommended doctor visits. And only nine per cent of women typically see a doctor during their check-up, while almost half did not have requisite tests.
“If headway is going to be made on infant and maternal deaths, access to and quality of health care for pregnant women has to be improved,” said Mu Sochua, former Minister of Women’s Affairs and opposition lawmaker.