Perinatal Society of Sri Lanka successfully completes the landmark islandwide research study on Low Birth Weight

Low birth weight (LBW), defined as weight at birth <2500g, is a global health problem. It is estimated that 15% to 20% of all births worldwide are LBW, representing 20 million births annually. The two main causes of LBW are prematurity and small for gestational age (SGA). Prematurity is defined as neonates born before 37 completed weeks of gestation, and the SGA is defined as having a birth weight below the 10th percentile for the gestational age based on sex-specific growth charts. In many instances, prematurity and SGA coexist.

The President and the Council of the Perinatal Society of Sri Lanka (PSSL) prioritised combating LBW as a primary task of their activities for 2023. Under the leadership of PSSL President Dr Susie Perera and Secretary Dr Asiri Hewamalage, the Council of PSSL appointed a Subcommittee to work on reducing LBW in Sri Lanka. The Subcommittee comprised of Prof Sachith Mettananda (Professor of Paediatrics, University of Kelaniya), Dr Himali Herath (Consultant Community Physician and National Programme Manager for Intranatal and Newborn Care, Family Health Bureau), Prof Sampatha Goonewardena (Professor in Community Medicine, University of Sri Jayawardhenapura) and Dr Nimesha Gamhewage (Consultant Neonatologist, Colombo South Teaching Hospital).

After carefully evaluating the available evidence on LBW in Sri Lanka, the Subcommittee embarked on an islandwide multi-centre research study to determine the ‘Prevalence, composition, and determinants of low birth weight in Sri Lanka’. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Intranatal and Newborn Care Unit of the Family Health Bureau and UNICEF Sri Lanka.

Thirteen hospitals (De Soyza Hospital for Women, Colombo North Teaching Hospital, Kethumathi Hospital, BH Gampola, DGH Nuwara Eliya, TH Mahamodara, DGH Kegalle, BH Balangoda, PGH Badulla, TH Batticaloa, TH Jaffna, BH Puttalam and TH Anuradhapura) representing different tiers of hospitals and all nine provinces were selected for the study. The study was conducted over two months, between 1 August to 30 September 2023. Fifteen dedicated research assistants (pre-intern medical graduates) collected data on all live-born neonates in the selected hospitals.

A total of 9130 live births were recorded during the study period. The highest number of births were reported from TH Mahamodara (n=1126), TH Jaffna (N=1058) and TH Anuradhapura (n=1051). The research team presented the results to a focus group of high-ranking officials from the Family Health Bureau and UNICEF, which stimulated a lengthy discussion on the gravity of the problem of LBW in Sri Lanka. The Subcommittee expects to disseminate the study results in a wider forum and publish the research findings in a high-impact scientific journal. Through this, the PSSL expects to provide evidence-based recommendations to revise the national policy on low birth weight in Sri Lanka.