15 million babies born too soon: World Prematurity Day 2014

This blog was originally published by BioMed Central. Written by Natasha Salaria.

This year 15 million babies will be born prematurely, with 1 million a year – or 3000 a day – dying as a result of premature birth. And for the first time in history, preterm birth has overtaken pneumonia as the leading cause of death in young children.

Today marks the 4th World Prematurity Day, a global effort to raise awareness of preterm birth and its prevention, involving over 200 countries, NGOs and relevant organizations.

What are the problems?

Preterm birth is now the leading global killer of young children with more than 3,000 children dying daily from preterm birth complications as outlined in a recent Lancet special issue.

Across the world, the top 5 countries with the highest numbers of babies dying from preterm birth complications each year are: India (361,600), Nigeria (98,300), Pakistan (75,000), Democratic Republic of the Congo (40,600) and China (37,200). West Africa is currently seeing some of the highest rates, which will no doubt be on the increase in those countries suffering from the Ebola outbreak.

What is being done about it?

According to this press release, out today, $250 million has been provided to carry out revolutionary research into the cause of preterm birth and prevention/delay and will involve more than 200 researchers. Key messages this year

This press release, released at 0:00 GMT today provides vital information and statistics on the causes and effects of preterm birth. Key messages are outlined below.

There are many known preventions to reduce the risk of preterm birth and complications, including family planning, decreasing embryo transfer numbers when using assisted reproductive techniques, and eliminating C-sections that are elective before 39 weeks.

Since 2000, we have seen an annual reduction of 3.9% in under-five deaths. This can, at least in part, be put down to the great advances made against deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and HIV. In comparison, preterm births have seen an annual reduction of 2.0%.

Dr José M. Belizán, who is Editor-in-Chief of Reproductive Health and also the chosen spokesperson of the press release for South America, reflects on how the journal is contributing to the effort to reduce pretem births:

“Through the journal Reproductive Health we have made many relevant contributions. Initially with the Born Too Soon supplement and the corresponding infographic and consequently with three further supplements giving the basis for interventions that could ameliorate the problem of preterm births.”

How is research contributing to these advancements?

Research is fundamental to ensuring the continued reduction of preterm births. Reproductive Health has published several important supplements in 2014 as part of this work as well as the Born Too Soon supplement published last World Prematurity Day in 2013.

Our first supplement on Essential interventions for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health addressed essential key steps to take in order to improve maternal, newborn and child health and survival in a series of freely available review articles. This includes family planning, corticosteroid use and management of preterm, premature rupture of membranes, kangaroo mother care for preterm babies as well as continuous positive airway pressure to manage preterm babies with respiratory distress syndrome.

We then looked at Quality of Care for Maternal and Child Health in a series of five papers that assessed and summarized information from relevant systematic reviews on the impact of various approaches to improve the quality of care for women and newborns. This included outreach services for women at a high risk for preterm birth.

Most recently, we looked at Preconception interventions addressing pre-pregnancy health risks and health problems that could have negative maternal and fetal consequences, including factors associated with preterm birth and proposed interventions.

It has potential to further reduce global maternal and child mortality and morbidity, particularly in low-income countries where the highest burden of pregnancy-related deaths and disability occurs. You can also see a visual summary of these supplements in our infographic.

What can you do to participate?

  • Visit facebook.com/worldprematurityday to read stories from around the world
  • Show your support on Twitter using the hashtag #worldprematurityday
  • Share this blog/these infographics and the information within them

Dr José M. Belizán is a medical doctor, with a PhD in Reproductive Health Sciences, Superior Researcher of his country’s National Board of Science and Technology and the Editor-in-Chief of Reproductive Health

Natasha Salaria is the Journal Development Editor of Reproductive Health at BioMed Central

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