The year 2021 has been unique in many ways as the global COVID-19 pandemic has continued to pose serious challenges to the political, economic, cultural, and social sectors in countries across the globe. It has repeatedly pushed healthcare systems to the brink of functionality – and in some cases even beyond. The pandemic has particularly affected families with a baby born too soon, too small, or too sick since these babies are particularly vulnerable, often need specialised and intensive care, and have to remain in hospital for longer periods of time.
In order to protect both staff and patients from contracting and spreading the virus, many clinics and hospitals were forced to take strict safety precautions and put rigorous hygiene measures in place. Unfortunately, this has also meant that the contact between parents and their baby was often massively restricted. Women had to give birth on their own, without a trusted person by their side to support them. Many NICUs also limited the number of family members who were allowed to enter the unit and the amount of time they were allowed to spend there, effectively keeping parents from seeing their baby for longer periods of time. In some cases, parents were not allowed to look after their baby in the NICU at all. So far, studies have suggested that these safety measures do not prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the extent that they justify separating parents and babies – especially since research has shown the negative long-term effects of familial separation.
This is why the motto of this year’s World Prematurity Day is:
Act now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together.
With this slogan, we advocate that safe, infant- and family-centred developmental care for babies born too soon, too small, or too sick is possible even in times of a global pandemic. On World Prematurity Day, we want to raise our voices for babies born too soon and their families because parents and their babies belong together – always.
- Babies born too soon refers to babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.
- Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under 5, causing an estimated 1 million deaths in 2015 globally.
- An estimated 15 million babies are born preterm every year – more than 1 in 10 babies around the world.
- Rates of preterm birth are rising in the majority of countries with adequate data. Across 184 countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% of babies born.
- (Key facts preterm birth, WHO, 02/2018.)
As research and reports have repeatedly shown, the restrictions put in place to stop the COVID-19 pandemic affect the provision and the quality of neonatal care across the globe. Supported by its international network of partner parent organisations, EFCNI undertook a global study with the aim of exploring parents’ experiences of neonatal care during the pandemic. The study’s focus rested on the impact the restrictions had on key aspects of infant- and family-centred developmental care during the first year of the pandemic.
The full report will be published on 11 November 2021. Its core findings are that restrictions related to COVID-19 severely hindered and at times outright blocked central elements of infant- and family-centred developmental care. While COVID-19 related restrictions are generally necessary to stem transmission, disregarding evidence-based cornerstones of infant- and family-centred developmental care increases the risks of morbidity and mortality for vulnerable newborns across the globe. These risks are, however, so high that they effectively cancel out any gains in safety and security for these babies. Therefore, we call for a policy of zero separation for parents and their babies.