According to the World Health Organization, low birth weight occurs when a child is born weighing less than 5.5 pounds. This is having global impacts where nearly 20-million infants, or about 23.8 percent of all births, are born each year at a low birth weight. Pre-term birth is the world’s largest killer of babies, resulting in 1-million deaths each year worldwide.


Developing countries have the largest prematurity and low birth rate problems amongst newborn babies.

95-percent of low birth weight babies are born in developing countries, yet 75-percent could have been saved with the use of high technology care — that many developing countries don’t have the means of providing. Precise data collection proves to be difficult because many babies are not weighed at birth in many countries. Many of these premature and low birth rate children are susceptible to disease, including, sepsis, breathing problems, bleeding in the brain, heart and intestinal problems.

Prematurity and Low Birth Rate can result in a child’s overall growth and susceptibility to disease throughout life. Both are also a major cause of neonatal death, resulting in nearly 4-million baby deaths in the first months of life. Teenage mothers whose bodies are not fully grown are also at risk of giving birth to babies with low birth weight.

Low birth weight babies and those born premature are more likely to have health problems, difficulty feeding and gaining weight, low oxygen levels and problems maintaining body temperature at birth. Hypothermia often occurs when babies are unable to regulate their own body temperature and cannot stay warm. Average room temperature is too cold for a new born infant and can cause a baby to get hypothermia. Those that do survive hypothermia often develop permanent health problems ranging from diabetes, heart disease or low IQ.

Low birth weight and prematurity needs optimal care in a neonatal intensive care unit, the child may need a temperature-controlled bed and special food (possibly through tube feeding into the stomach). These interventions are costly and can be difficult — if not impossible — to get in developing countries.

Embrace, an organization dedicated to advancing maternal and child health, is helping to improve health outcomes by delivering creative solutions to vulnerable populations in developing countries. They seek to ensure an equal chance for a healthy life all over the world.

Embrace has many volunteers that work within their organization to help make a difference. One such volunteer is Paras Shah. He wanted to help other babies that are facing similar circumstances and help them. His efforts went from simple high school fundraisers for Embrace in Mission Viejo, California — to developing an Embrace Chapter at University of California, Berkeley where he currently attends college. It all began with an idea, a desire to effect a change and make an impact.


Embrace Global with Paras Shah

“As I sat in front of the television, the first fragments came to me — and over the course of six months — those fragments materialized into an event larger than anything I could have dreamed up.” Paras’s efforts is featured in an ABC 20/20 special titled, “Be the Change, Save a Life.” Para’s spoke about the many health problems facing millions of children across the world.

Paras had an instant connection to the work that the Embrace team was doing. As an infant, he was born three months premature, weighting one pound, six ounces. He remained in the hospital for 110 days and now remains legally blind as a result. “I cannot imagine the plethora of emotions my parents felt at my birth,” he tells Embrace in an interview. His parents named him Paras, which means “Remover of Obstacles,” in his native language Sanskrit. Unsure if he would live or die, his parents had faith he would overcome. “Time and time again, I have proven doctors wrong and accomplished what they said would be impossible,” he says. His family was told that he would have little to no chance at a ‘normal’ life and his father was told his son would never ride a bike. Determined to give his son a ‘normal’ life, Paras’s father begin to empower his son to be determined to do anything in life. Paras recalls when his father, “bought me an apple-red bicycle. Three months later, I rode that bike around my neighborhood.”

Paras continues to rise above the challenges. He seeks to help give infants a chance of life and works to support the Embrace mission. He contacted Embrace and reached out to his local city community and school, and Paras said within three months, “we knew we had something special.” He assembled a team together and began to brainstorm ideas for an event he titled, “Embrace the Talent.” The simple idea turned into a comedy night and talent show, which highlights local acts. Within the infancy of the show, he gathered many acts and gained sponsorships from various companies. On June 27, 2011, his labors became visible to over 150 people, including the mayor. They all gathered in the local Community Center to enjoy the event. “Embrace the Talent” raised $3,029 for Embrace to help save the lives of premature infants, like Paras.

Paras embraces the advice of what Robert Kennedy once said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” Paras is reminded of these generous words as he looks forward to his education at UC Berkeley, where he attends college. “This is advice I will certainly embrace, as I continue to live my life in the spirit of service.”

Paras Shah Started the Embrace Chapter at the University of California, Berkeley

Paras Shah Started the Embrace Chapter at the University of California, Berkeley

Now a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley Paras enjoys bringing the Chapter of Embrace to his campus. He has found a group of highly motivated people who share an enthusiasm and desire to save lives. The first meeting for the Embrace chapter at the university was held February 1, 2012. With nearly 40 people in attendance, an audience heard the message of how they can give hope and help others. The group has developed a fundraising committee structure and they will be working on brainstorming, implementing and evaluating original ideas and projects. “I and the rest of the leadership team look forward to what the semester holds for Embrace,” says Paras. Paras and his team are encouraged by the creative ideas and passion of their peers. “It is our distinct honor to serve as the first Embrace chapter on a university campus and we keep that in mind as we seek to create an enduring model that others may follow in the years to come,” says Paras.

Paras is currently an intern at Embrace Global and is working toward receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Government. He is planning to graduate in 2015. Paras has inspired and touched many students, friends, and Embrace staff and volunteers — as he continues to overcome, make a difference and lives his life victoriously.


Notes & References:

1. http://embraceblog.org/2011/10/06/a-volunteers-story-about-overcoming-his-premature-birth-2/
2. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/index.html
3. http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/premature_indepth.html
4. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/preterm_indepth.html
5. http://www.unicef.org/philippines/mediacentre_19960.html#.UPOgLuhMt7M