“We’re Number One” is No Reason to be Proud

A nurse helps a new mother breastfeed her newborn at a clinic in Accra, Ghana. © Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Olivier Asselin

This blog was originally published in Impatient Optimists. Written by Eve Lackritz. 

The global burden of preterm birth represents a large and complex public health challenge that no single intervention or organization can solve alone. Each year, 15 million infants are born preterm, and more than one million will not survive their first month of life, making preterm birth the leading cause of death for all children up to age 5 worldwide. To tackle a health problem of that magnitude, a new coalition of leading health institutions is banding together to find new solutions for the prevention and care of preterm birth and its associated morbidity and mortality worldwide.

The Global Coalition to Advance Preterm birth Research (GCAPR) is a partnership initiated by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the March of Dimes Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children’s.

Sixteen organizations from around the world have already signed on as members of the organization, expressing their desire to increase collaboration, efficiency, and funding of preterm birth research.

Infants who are born preterm face the risk of death or potentially lifelong complications including respiratory and vision disorders and developmental delays, affecting families and increasing demands on resources for health care, education, and social services. The Institute of Medicine estimated in 2007 that the costs associated with preterm birth were $26.2 billion each year in the U.S. alone. While organizations exist to fund research to decrease risks of preterm birth, GCAPR was formed to coordinate those efforts, accelerate discovery of new solutions, and leverage new and existing investments to achieve global change.

The Coalition has outlined some priority activities, which include:

  • Improve coordination, comparability, and harmonization of research. A subcommittee will review materials from several existing research programs and recommend steps to make methods and definitions more compatible. Materials will include questionnaires, standard operating procedures, protocols and definitions. When pregnancy researchers use similar definitions and methods across research projects, results can be compared, evaluated, and analyzed more effectively.
  • Evaluate evidence-based strategies to improve survival and health. One area of implementation research that is ripe for attention is the evaluation of interventions and treatments that are delivered in combination. It is common for individual interventions to be evaluated separately, but delivered in conjunction with others. Careful analysis of outcomes will allow researchers to identify the role that each intervention plays in improving infant survival.
  • Accelerate moving discoveries into practice. New scientific advancements need a more rapid path from discovery to development of diagnostic or therapeutic products to improve health outcomes. GCAPR members will share expertise to advance strategies and research needed to move results down the pipeline to the mothers and infants who need them.
  • Ensure global applicability of products. Through collaboration and partnership, GCAPR will seek opportunities to conduct clinical trials across populations so that the resulting products and interventions can have broad applicability around the world.

Preterm birth is not a problem that will be solved easily, as there are many pathways and causes. We know that uniting organizations with similar goals will give us the best opportunities to make measurable progress toward reducing the global burden. We are very excited about the momentum that has been building around preterm birth funding and research. We hope that additional organizations and agencies from both the public and private sector will continue to join this effort as we focus attention on preterm birth and strive to find solutions.

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