NEW YORK, July 3rd, 2012
Every year, approximately one in ten babies are born prematurely. Many of these babies suffer from lifelong neurological, physical or educational disabilities, and more than one million die shortly after birth. Approximately 75 percent of premature babies who die could live if certain inexpensive but effective treatment and prevention options were available around the world.
Historically, premature births have been neglected and overlooked by the medical community. Complications can arise for any infant, but preterm babies are especially vulnerable to disease, injury and death. Nearly half of newborn moralities worldwide are attributed to preterm birth, which is one of the leading causes of death in all children under five.
Preterm birth is a worldwide health issue, but certain areas of the globe have higher rates than others. Eleven countries have premature birth rates higher than 15 percent, and nine are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sixty percent of all preterm births occur in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and babies are born too early far more often in the world’s poorest countries. Even the world’s wealthiest countries are not immune to preterm births. About 12 percent of babies are born prematurely in the United States, putting the world’s wealthiest nation in the top ten for highest rate of preterm births.
Premature births have risen in all but three countries in the last two decades. The increasing rate is linked to a rise in fertility drug use, unnecessary inductions, infections, HIV, adolescent pregnancy rates, malaria and an increase in the number of older women becoming pregnant. While the number may seem dire, the problem of premature births is solvable. Some countries, like Oman, Botswana and Ecuador, have improved their neonatal mortality rates by improving care for serious complications, while others have adopted maternal antenatal steroid injections during premature labor. This affordable injection can save nearly half a million babies annually if made widely available.
Other solutions include practicing “Kangaroo care,” in which the mother holds the baby to her chest to keep warm, antiseptic creams that can prevent infections of the birth cord and increasing use of antibiotics to fight and prevent infection.