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Countries must up their game to reduce low birth weights, warns UN-backed report

By Deepak Arora

Baby in Papua New Guinea wears an orange hypothermia alert device at the neo natal unit in Mendi General Hospital in Southern Highlands Province to monitor its temperature. UNICEF/Kate HoltNEW YORK, May 15: Many countries need to invest more and take greater action to reduce the number of babies born with low birth weights which put their health at risk, urges a United Nations-backed report released on Wednesday.

Around one-in-seven babies worldwide weighed less than 5.5 pounds, or 2.5 kilogrammes at birth, according to latest data from 2015.

The Lancet Global Health research paper was developed by experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which not only reveals that more than 20 million babies that year were born with a low birthweight, but that 80 per cent of the world’s 2.5 million low weight newborns die every year, because they are either pre-term and/or small for gestational age.

“We have seen very little change over 15 years”, spelled out lead author Hannah Blencowe, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. “Despite clear commitments, our estimates indicate that national Governments are doing too little to reduce low birth weight”.

In 2012, WHO’s 195 member States committed to reduce its prevalence by 30 per cent, by 2025. However, estimates found only a 1.2 per cent decrease worldwide – from 22.9 million low birthweight livebirths in 2000 to 20.5 million in 2015 – indicating that if the rate did not pick up, the world would fall well short of the annual 2.7 per cent reduction required to meet the 2012 target.

Although every newborn must be weighed, co-author UNICEF Statistics and Monitoring Specialist, Julia Krasevec, said that “worldwide, we don’t have a record for the birth weight of nearly one-third of all newborns”.

“We cannot help babies born with low birth weight without improving the coverage and accuracy of the data we collect”, Ms. Krasevec added.

And low weight babies who survive are at greater risk of stunting, or being short for their ages in height, and suffering developmental and physical ill health later in life - including chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study’s authors have called for international action to ensure that all babies are weighed at birth, to improve clinical care and to promote public health inquiry into the causes of low birthweight, to reduce death and disability.

“With better weighing devices and stronger data systems, we can capture the true birth weight of every baby, including those born at home, and provide better quality of care to these newborns and their mothers” Ms. Krasevec affirmed.

The publication illustrates that three-quarters of those affected were born in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the problem is also significant in high-income countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, where there has been virtually no progress in reducing low birthweight rates since 2000.

In low-income countries, poor growth in the womb is a major cause, while the new analysis associates the issue in more developed regions with prematurity, or a baby which is born earlier than 37 weeks.

Because it is “a complex clinical entity”, WHO co-author Mercedes de Onis said that reduction “requires understanding of the underlying causes in a given country”, which “should be a priority” in high-burden countries.

UN health agency highlights lifestyle choices that can prevent onset of dementia

World Bank/Miso LisaninGENEVA, May 14: Key lifestyle choices such as getting regular exercise, not smoking or drinking too much, can reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline, the UN health agency said on Tuesday.

In recommendations to counter an expected tripling in the number of people with the degenerative condition in the next 30 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines are designed to help medical professionals and governments to develop national policies.

Today, around 50 million people globally suffer from dementia and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time: that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

According to WHO’s new guidelines, other lifestyle choices that people can make to reduce the risk of dementia include controlling their weight, eating healthily and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Last year, WHO provided support to countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Qatar, Slovenia and Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive, multi-sectoral public health response to dementia, it said in a statement.

Reducing the risk of lifestyle choices linked to dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to the illness.

Other areas include strengthening diagnosis, treatment and care, with a particular emphasis on online support for carers of people with dementia.

“Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones,” said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “This is why WHO created iSupport…an online training programme providing carers of people with dementia with advice on overall management of care, dealing with behaviour changes and how to look after their own health.”

Scientists develop an AI to identify depression in children

BURLINGTON, May 8: Do little children slip into depression? The answer is yes. Here, we are not talking about the common Monday blues but about persistent sadness that has the potential to alter the child’s mental and emotional growth. Depression among children is often expressed in the form of anger, and if not diagnosed early and treated can lead to suicidal tendencies, substance abuse and self-harm in children.

It is hard to diagnose depression in young children below eight years since they find it difficult comprehend the emotional aspect, and rely on adult supervision. Studies reveal that one in every five children suffer from anxiety and depression, recognized as internalising disorder.

We may soon find an adequate solution to this issue. An artificial intelligence (AI) tool has been developed to identify depression in children. According to the research published in the Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, this recently developed machine learning algorithm has the potential to identify symptoms in efficient time that are overlooked in most cases of children.

"We need quick, objective tests to catch kids when they are suffering," said Ellen McGinnis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center's Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families and lead author of the study.

The study followed the Tier-Social Stress task, which induces psychological stress. 71 children between ages 3 and 8 years were asked to improvise on a three-minute story to which the researcher gave negative feedbacks. The aim was to make the children feel that they were being judged.

The algorithm, which identifies the speech pattern, was able to distinguish between eight audio features out of which three stood out identifying the internalising disorder. Low pitch voice, repeatable speech and high pitch response to the surprising buzzer are the three that indicated the prevalence of depression. The algorithm’s speed impressed the researchers as it took only few seconds to diagnose in contrast to parent-questionnaires and structured clinical interviews that take hours.

"The algorithm was able to identify children with a diagnosis of an internalizing disorder with 80 per cent accuracy, and in most cases that compared really well to the accuracy of the parent checklist," said Ryan McGinnis, another author on the study.

This invention could largely help young children and their parents to provide the required help to the children suffering from internalising disorder.

 


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