To mark World Prematurity Day, the Israel Forum for Prematurity released a report on the care of premature babies in Israeli hospitals. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich summarized the findings for the Jerusalem Post, stating that “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 the article, the number of premature babies is increasing, with 45 more born last year compared to the previous year. The mortality rate of the smallest premies, those under 27 weeks, is even greater than twice that of western countries. Many premature births involve multiples.
The article mentions that one of the measures underway to reduce mortality is the foundation of a milk bank. “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.”
Israel is one of the few countries with no official milk bank, designed to provide human milk for babies whose mothers can’t provide it. Any costs involved in setting up the bank are more than offset by the savings incurred through lower risk of infection. For example, premies who receive infant formula are at much higher risk of necrotizing enterocolitis. NEC is expensive to treat, and responsible for many premie deaths.
Israel should follow the example of Brazil. Its advanced system for collecting human milk contributed to a slash in infant mortality by two-thirds. While attending breastfeeding conferences in Colombia and Costa Rica, I was struck by the governments’ effects in Latin America work to promote and encourage breastfeeding. Many policies in Israel inhibit breastfeeding, including routine separation of mothers and infants during the hospital stay, and promotion of infant formula,
Israel offers a high level of pregnancy care, with more prenatal testing and fertility treatment than any other country. So it’s disappointing that our system falls short after the babies are born.