Zero separation: infant and family-centred developmental care in times of COVID-19

  • The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health
  • Ever since its initiation by the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) more than 10 years ago, World Prematurity Day on November 17 has become a global movement to raise awareness for preterm birth and its consequences. More than one in ten babies are born preterm every year, and numbers are still increasing worldwide. The immediate and long-term health effects are severe; preterm birth is one of the leading causes of neonatal death.
World Prematurity Day 2021 highlights the specific challenges that babies born too soon and their families have been facing during the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For almost 2 years now, societies and health systems worldwide have been disrupted. Although the focus has rightly been on managing the COVID-19 crisis and its fallout, pandemic-related restrictions have also affected quality of care, including the application of an evidence-based infant and family-centred developmental care approach.
Implemented restrictions have put additional pressure on the already vulnerable group of newborn babies and their families, with the full effect of the long-term consequences yet to be seen.
In contrast to international agreements, such as the 2030 Development Agenda or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which underline the right to health and the right of children to be close to their parents, separation policies have been implemented in many neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) across countries. Although infection control measures were necessary to manage the emergency situation, the pace and blanket coverage of these measures applied also to parents of vulnerable infants, with immediate implications for child growth and development, and for the family as a whole.