OBJECTIVE. Skin barrier therapy during the neonatal period, when the skin barrier is most highly compromised and the risk of death is greatest, has been shown to have a number of potential benefits, including reduced risk of nosocomial sepsis. Topical application of emollients that augment skin barrier function was evaluated as a strategy for improving survival rates among hospitalized preterm infants in Bangladesh.

METHODS. A prospective, randomized, controlled, clinical trial was conducted in the special care nursery at Dhaka Shishu (Children) Hospital, the largest tertiary care children's hospital in Bangladesh. Preterm infants (gestational age: ≤33 weeks; N = 497) received daily topical applications of sunflower seed oil or Aquaphor ointment. Neonatal mortality rates were compared in an intent-to-treat analysis with a control group that did not receive emollient therapy.

RESULTS. Treatment with sunflower seed oil resulted in a statistically significant 26% reduction in mortality rates, compared with infants not receiving topical emollient therapy. Aquaphor therapy also significantly reduced mortality rates, by 32%.

CONCLUSIONS. Topical therapy with skin barrier-enhancing emollients improved survival rates among preterm hospitalized infants in Bangladesh. This study provides strong evidence for the implementation of topical therapy for high-risk preterm neonates in developing countries.

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