According to the most recent estimates, 35% of newborn deaths are caused by complications of premature birth. Every year, 15 million babies are born too soon and rates are increasing in almost all countries. More than 1 million babies die each year due to complications of preterm birth, making it the leading cause of newborn deaths worldwide and now the number two cause of child mortality, after pneumonia. Survivors may face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems.
Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are at risk due to loss of body heat, breathing difficulties, infections and a lack of proper nutrition. Almost half of all preterm babies are born at home, and even for those born in facilities, essential care is often lacking.
Preterm birth can be prevented
Preterm birth can be prevented by investing more in health care for mothers before, during and after childbirth. Family planning and increased empowerment of women, especially adolescents, will also help to reduce preterm birth rates. More research is needed to link the multiple causes of preterm birth to effective solutions, but it is clear that hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved each year with quality care for preterm babies.
Better care for preterm babies
Interventions to manage preterm labor aim at reducing serious complications arising from preterm birth. These interventions include medications called tocolytics to slow down labor, antenatal corticosteroids to help the baby speed up lung development and survive preterm birth, and antibiotics to prevent infection.
Care for babies born too soon or too small should, where possible, include:
The third annual World Prematurity Day is November 17, 2013. Hundreds of associations, societies, professionals, private sector organizations and individuals will come together with events and activities around the globe, bringing attention to the global challenge of premature birth.
Join the conversation on #WorldPrematurityDay
On Friday Nov 15 (12-2 pm CET), the South African and UK Permanent Missions in Geneva, Switzerland will co-host an event presenting the Every Newborn action plan and discussing preterm birth.
A discussion this Friday Nov 15 (10-11:30 AM EST) will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Zambia and USAID. View the live webcast at www.webtv.un.org.
A technical symposium in Washington DC next Tuesday Nov 19 (9-12 noon EST) will focus discussion on what the international community can do to improve the effective delivery of preterm interventions around the time of birth. Click here to register online.
How can we address preterm birth?
Watch the short interview with Save the Children's Joy Lawn, as she outlines what can be done to improve care for preterm babies and how countries like Malawi are taking action.