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Health package to help save premature babies launched

/ 05:24 PM December 01, 2016

The Department of Health and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), along with the World Health Organization and UNICEF, have launched a health benefit package to help address some 300,000 premature and small newborn cases in the country every year.

Statistics released by the DOH and UNICEF showed that in the Philippines, almost half of children who die before their fifth birthday are newborns. Of those who die, 60 percent succumb to complications brought about by prematurity and low birth weight.

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Records also revealed that complications from preterm birth and low birth weight account for more than one million newborn deaths a year. Countless other babies survive and suffer lifelong physical, neurological, or educational disability.

Around three-quarters of preterm babies could survive if they had access to cost-effective interventions, health authorities said. But they added that these interventions remain inaccessible to many because of critical socio-economic disparities.

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By the end of the year, the PhilHealth benefit package for premature and small babies can be availed of in selected contracted government and private tertiary health facilities by all PhilHealth members.

According to UNICEF Country Representative Lotta Sylwander, “We see this policy as a game-changer which could help the country in further lowering child mortality. UNICEF will continue to work with government partners to ensure its proper implementation and increase its availability for all Filipino mothers and children.”

The package covers a broad range of interventions from management of preterm labor to addressing severe complications of prematurity and low birth weight.

Examples of these include giving antenatal corticosteroids for pregnant women at risk of giving birth to premature baby, incentive for maternal transfer to the nearest referral facility while the baby is still inside, Unang Yakap at birth, Kangaroo Mother Care, neonatal intensive care and breastfeeding support.

UNICEF provided DOH and Philhealth with technical assistance to craft these benefit packages, ensuring that the process is consultative, evidence-informed and equity-focused.

“The cost of saving preterm and small babies has been economically catastrophic to many families, both rich and poor. True to the tenets of the Philippine Health Agenda, it is very timely that we address financial protection of these families and universal healthcare for their newborns,” said DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial.

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