DOH, PHILHEALTH, WHO, AND UNICEF JOIN FORCES FOR PREMATURE AND SMALL BABIES’ SURVIVAL IN NATIONAL SUMMIT

MANILA, 25 November 2016 —The Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) are launching today the benefit packages for premature and small newborns to treat the leading cause of death among newborn babies worldwide. The benefit packages, designed with the support of the UNICEF, will potentially reach 300,000 premature and small newborns every year.

Complications of preterm birth and low birth weight are the top killers of newborn babies globally. It results to more than one million deaths each year and countless others of babies who survive and suffer lifelong physical, neurological, or educational disability, often at great cost to families and society. In the Philippines, almost half of children who die before their fifth birthday are newborns. Of those babies who die, 60 percent succumb to complications brought about by prematurity and low birth weight.

An estimated three-quarters of these preterm babies could survive if they had access to cost-effective interventions. Because of critical socio-economic disparities, however, these interventions remain inaccessible to many.

Preterm and small babies need special care, as they are not fully prepared to live in the world outside their mother’s womb. They get cold and infections more easily and need more help to breastfeed compared to full-term babies. Because their bodies are not yet fully developed or they are very small, they may have problems breathing and can also suffer from other complications including infections.

“Newborn deaths due to complications of prematurity and low birth weight can be prevented. These can be done with adequate quality prenatal care and sufficient intake of nutritious food during pregnancy, managing complications prior to giving birth with proper use of steroids or antibiotics, early initiation of breastfeeding even for premature and small babies, known as Unang Yakap and lastly, doing kangaroo mother care. These are just a few of the interventions that can be applied to ensure the survival and health of premature and small babies who face daunting challenges right after birth. 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.” DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial says.

The launch of this innovative benefit package will enable families to avail of the necessary care for babies suffering from preterm and low birth weight complications. 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.

The package covers a broad range of interventions from management of preterm labour 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.

“This is a landmark benefit for PhilHealth.” said PhilHealth President Ramon Aristoza, “It addresses the problem of prematurity and low birth weight from the primary care level to the tertiary level.”

WHO Country representative Dr.GundoWeiler lauded the new benefit package, "Asking families to make cash payments has been a key obstacle to expanding appropriate care to all infants. This package will make a substantial impact on lives and will help the Philippines achieve the National Objectives for Health, contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of less than 10 newborn deaths for every 1000 live births by 2030.

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.”

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