Israel's mortality rates for premature babies still twice as high as average for West

There is a severe shortage of specialized manpower in hospital premature baby units.

A newborn baby (photo credit: REUTERS)
A newborn baby
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The death rate of premature babies in Israel remains twice as high as that in other Western countries, with 277 dying in an average year, according to a report prepared by the Israel Forum for Premature Babies that is scheduled to be presented in the Knesset on Tuesday to mark World Prematurity Day.
A total of 15,430 premature babies were born this year before the 37th week, out of a normal term of gestation of 40 weeks, but the highest risk of mortality is among those delivered before the 27th week. The death rate among very small premature babies in Israel is even higher than twice the number in other Western countries.
Mortality from pneumonia remained steady in the past year, but that from sepsis – blood infection –dropped slightly, according to the report.
About 73 percent of premature babies in Israel are cared for in neonatal intensive care units that do not have full protection in case of emergencies such as missile attacks, and 58% of them don’t have a nearby “safe area” to take the infants in times of emergency, the report found.
In addition, “about eight in 10 preemies do not receive the maximum initial treatment suited to their needs during their hospitalization and after their discharge from the preemie unit. About 90% of them are not entitled to professional developmental follow-up by an interdisciplinary team once they are sent home,” the report charged.
There is a severe shortage of specialized manpower in hospital premature baby units, including about 90 neonatologists, 600 specially trained nurses and 65 special beds.
However, there has been a significant increase in doctors studying the specialty in hospitals.
MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child and chairwoman of the premature babies forum, said after reading the report that “the data in the report are serious and worrisome, and the health system and those standing at its head should not ignore it... There must be state intervention.”
A few months after Operation Protective Edge, when premature babies had to be evacuated from neonatal units at Barzilai Medical Center and Soroka University Medical Center, the need for protection was even more clear, she added.
The number of premature babies, resulting frequently from multiple births, has increased continuously. This past year, 45 more preemies were born compared to the year before, Levy-Abecassis said.
The report charged that private health-insurance companies “discriminate” against premature babies, whose parents cannot take out policies that would cover them and pay for some of the extra costs.
Dr. Shmuel Tzangen, head of the Israel Neonatal Society and a member of the forum, said that the situation has improved somewhat in the last few years, but that the gaps remain wide.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry – anticipating the report – presented the preemie situation in a positive light.
“We are working with determination to advance the treatment of premature babies” at well-baby (“Tipat Halav”) clinics in cooperation with the Ashalim organization.
“In the program is an intensive course on the needs of preemies for public health nurses,” the ministry said.
“We are also working to make child-development services more accessible to [babies’ parents],” it maintained.
The ministry said it has decided on a pilot project to set up a mothers’ milk bank, and that two hospitals that expressed interest are in the advanced stages for formulating such a program.
In cases of overcrowded hospitals, the ministry tries to redirect parents of preemies to other hospitals where there is more space, and has a program to reduce newborns’ infections, which is a frequent killer of tiny infants.