Babies born with low birth weight in Kenya last year were the second leading cause of infant admission in health facilities.
These births accounted for 14 per cent or 9,081, behind pneumonia which accounted for 17 per cent or 11,018 of total infant hospital admissions. This was the third year in a row in which low birth weight was the second cause of hospital admissions among infants. This is according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’ Economic Survey 2020.
Among children under the age of five years, low birth weight was the third leading cause of hospital admissions. According to data from the KNBS survey, 9,263 babies with low birth weight were hospitalized in 2019. This though was a slight reduction from the 9,727 babies under five who were hospitalized in the year 2018.
However, figures from the survey showed that unlike 2019, low birth weight was the second leading cause of admissions at health facilities in 2018. In 2017, it was the fourth leading cause. This put low birth weight among leading conditions such as pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoeal diseases. It also showed that over the past three years, an average of 9,175 babies under the age of five have been getting admitted to hospitals due to low birth weight.
According to paediatrician Phyllis Wambui, low birth weight is one of the major complications of pregnancy. “This condition is linked with infant deaths and long term health consequences such as susceptibility to diabetes, kidney disorders, and even high blood pressure,” she says.
This is echoed by a study conducted by West Virginia University and published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. According to this study, children born with low birth weight are at risk of cardiovascular disease by the time they clock 10 years.
What is causing the high numbers of low birth weight in Kenya? Although low birth weight is caused by an interplay of factors such as hypertension, heart disease, poor nutrition and multiple pregnancies, maternal age is one of the leading causes.
“Maternal age is a major factor. We have girls becoming mothers in their teen years. This predisposes their pregnancies to preterm deliveries, complications and low birth weights due to their bodies’ insufficiency to cope,” says Dr Wambui. She explains that a baby is considered a low weight birth if delivered at less than 2.5kg.
According to the National Council For Population and Development report on teenage pregnancies in Kenya, 379,573 girls in Kenya – some as young as 10 years old – were pregnant or new mothers as of 2019. Statistics from the Global Childhood Kenya show that as of 2019 Kenya had the third highest teen pregnancy rates.