Blog Post

November 16, 2012 Krista Donaldson

World Prematurity Day

In honor of World Prematurity Day, here at D-Rev we are taking the opportunity to think about the issues that premature babies face around the world, what D-Rev is currently doing to help, and what we could all be doing to reduce the burden on these tiny (but resilient!) people.

David

David, a Nigerian boy with kernicterus. Photo credit: PICK Parent

Each year, 12 million infants worldwide require jaundice treatment and over 5.5 million1 infants in developing countries do not receive effective treatment. That leaves nearly 7 million children in the developing world who have a severe form of jaundice that goes untreated. In the developed world, jaundice is considered rather benign as it is widely recognized and generally treated swiftly and effectively, but if jaundice is left untreated, severe cases can result in kernicterus (a type of brain damage) or even death.

When pregnant mothers are not subject to diligent prenatal screening, for example when a mother gives birth at home, the risk of having a child with brain damage from jaundice could be as much as three to a thousand times higher according to our advisor, Dr. Vinny Bhutani of Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Children with kernicterus require special care that costs valuable time and money, which is especially taxing in already resource-strapped regions. The burden can have devastating effects on the child, the family, and the whole community.

Mother with baby

A mother sitting with her baby, who is being treated for jaundice with daylight. Photo credit: Ben Cline

This situation does not have to be so dire. Jaundice is a treatable condition—with phototherapy. Blue light shined on a baby’s skin breaks down dangerous bilirubin in the blood to a low, non-toxic level. Phototherapy is effective, it is simple, and it is relatively affordable in the context of the care we have here in North America. That is why D-Rev launched its Neonatal Jaundice Initiative to design and deliver products like Brilliance, which aim to provide affordable, world-class jaundice treatment to the populations who need it most.

Dr. Okolo, a neonatologist at a district-level hospital in Nigeria, spoke with a D-Rever this past year about the impact of jaundice in her home country. Dr. Okolo explains, “In my country, at least 40% [of] infant mortality is contributed by neonatal mortality. When we say the policymakers think the causes of neonatal mortality would just be prematurity, would just be bad asphyxia, yes, these are causes of neonatal mortality. But neonatal jaundice is an important cause of mortality and morbidity.” Watch Dr. Okolo’s full interview in the links below.

If you want to learn more about jaundice and kernicterus, please check out:

1 Ben Cline, “Global burden and unmet need for hyperbilirubinemia treatment,” October 2009.

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