Improved results for intensive care babies

High-risk newborn babies admitted to the highest-level intensive care units in Australia and New Zealand have a 91% chance of surviving, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the University of Sydney.

The report was compiled in cooperation with Australia and New Zealand's 29 neonatal intensive care units. The units have formed a network in the interests of improving high-risk newborn infant care through collaborative research and auditing of outcomes.

New Zealand coordinator of the network, Professor Brian Darlow, said the good results were a reflection of the trans-Tasman collaboration and 'the dedication of the people who work with these babies to maintain and improve their high standard of care'.

High-risk babies include those admitted to a level III neonatal intensive care unit who:

  • were born at less than 32 weeks gestation; or
  • weighed less than 1,500 grams; or
  • received assisted ventilation for four or more consecutive hours; or
  • received major surgery.

Approximately 12,500 babies in Australia and New Zealand met one or more of these criteria in 1996 and 1997, representing around 2% of all births.

The report also showed very good uptake of two procedures recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council:

  • the administration of corticosteroids to mothers at least 24 hours before an impending premature birth; and
  • use of exogenous surfactant for respiratory distress syndrome in infants (caused by immaturity and deficiency of surfactant, which lines the lung surface and helps keep it inflated).

The steroids enhance fetal lung maturation, and were given to 82.5% of mothers prior to a pre-term birth. The surfactant was administered to 85% of infants with lung disease.

Other results from the report include:

  • one-quarter of babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation were from a multiple birth
  • around 56% of the high-risk newborns were male, compared with 51% for all births in Australia.
  • between 1995 and 1997 the rate of significant brain haemorrhage in pre-term babies decreased.

25 October 1999