Fellow Abla Al Alfy Launches a Campaign to Reduce Prematurity in Egypt

Ashoka Arab World Fellow Dr. Abla Al Alfy organized the kickoff event of "Ibn al Badry," a year-long campaign to advocate for the reduction of prematurity in Egypt.
Ibn Al Badry

Ashoka Fellow Dr. Abla Al Alfy organized the kickoff event of the “Ibn Al Badry” campaign at the Gezira Youth Center in Zamalek on Sunday, November 17. The event was held under the patronage of her Excellency Dr. Hala Zaid, minister of health and population.

The gathering was the kickoff of a year-long campaign to advocate for the reduction of prematurity, the provision of high-quality care for pre-term babies, and support for parents of preemies, symbolically launched on World Prematurity Day.

In Egypt, premature delivery is one of the country’s main health challenges, making up around 20 % of deliveries after correction based on the verbal autopsy study done by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in 2012, and responsible for 45% of neonatal mortality. It is the top cause of mental and physical disabilities among children in the country.

Many factors can contribute to prematurity, including high elective rates of lower Segment Caesarean sections (LSCS), young marriage, a lack of spacing of successive pregnancies, smoking, and maternal malnutrition.

The launch gathering brought together doctors, nurses, health care professionals, and other major stakeholders in the field to strategize tactics for promoting and implementing health methodologies that could effectively tackle these causal factors and improve the outcomes for preterm babies.

“We want to tell people two things: that prematurity in Egypt is high, while most of causes are preventable and cross-cut with many other health and economic challenges in Egypt, and that they should work together very hard to reduce it,” explained Dr. Al Alfy. “What I was planning on doing today was gathering all the parties who are involved with these problems together to recommend ways to move forward.”

The event included group discussions and roundtable sessions. Topics ranged from LSCS and smoking to early marriage and lactation, with lively conversations at each table and thorough recommendations presented by each team.

A large sector gap identified during the discussions was a lack of adequate information regarding child health and nutrition available to mothers and families. Some recommendations for moving forward were implementing 18 as the legal age for marriage, promoting breastfeeding, and educating more women about their health options.

The Cairo Tower was lit in purple to commemorate the day, and after the talks, children acted out scenes, sang, and recited poetry related to the subjects discussed.

And the event didn’t end there: the next day was “Scientific Day,” which included a talk at Galaa Military Hospital on prematurity care and reduction of morbidity, a talk at Qalyobia governorate on November 19, and Kafr El Sheikh governorate on November 20, as well as roundtable discussions in Demietta with obstetricians, pediatricians, and community activists about spacing, the reduction of LSCS, and tools for success.

“I’m happy people got the message and that through our working groups we came out with fantastic plans to address these health issues,” Dr. Al Alfy stated, reflecting on the event.

For Dr. Al Alfy, this was a cause close to her heart. Dr. Al Alfy has always had a passion for working with and for children, and she originally went to medical school to study pediatrics and work with infants. During her time working at hospitals in Kuwait, in one facility, she raised the breastfeeding rate from 10 to 90 percent in one year.

Upon her return to Egypt, she founded the Egyptian Members Association of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, which works to provide better resources and information to new mothers about breastfeeding and child nutrition, empower doctors to be socially responsible within their communities, and train doctors on how to better provide support and care to these women and children.

Since founding her association, she has introduced certified nutritional counselors in Egypt, targeting local community workers and mothers who have breastfed as well as other health workers for her training.

Now, she is partnering with a range of organizations including Tahya Misr Fund to raise awareness about prematurity and how it is related to these nutrition and maternal care issues.

The campaign will continue for one year until World Prematurity Day 2020.

“We are going to look through the ideas everyone came up with and make them into a plan of action, and then we are going to pull people who are really authorities to refine the plan, ask for volunteers, and ask for experts to help,” Dr. Al Alfy explained. “Today we charged everyone with purpose, and I don’t want that charge to fade out.”

Throughout the year the campaign will continue, providing community awareness and counseling sessions for families in new settlements being developed by the government for the relocation of slums and destitute areas. These sessions will cover topics such as proper maternal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation; premarital and pre-conceptual health education; proper antenatal care; and the hazards of young marriage. The goal is to educate everyone, starting in the most vulnerable areas. During this campaign, Dr. Al Alfy will use her innovative new cadre, “the internationally certified family counselors,” to train and educate community about these health challenges. There will also be a continued social media campaign to advertise the programming.