Better data and health worker training may cut stillbirths: study

Stillbirth, which is defined as a baby born without life at or after 28 weeks gestation, is one of the major problems facing the health sector across the world. It is estimated that about 26 lakh stillbirths occurred globally every year and India accounted for the largest proportion with 5.9 lakh cases.

While the number of stillbirths is declining, the annual rate of reduction is a mere two per cent globally and is 2.4 per cent in India. In 2014, India launched an India Newborn Action Plan (INPA) which envisages to more than halve the incidence of stillbirth to below 10 per 1,000 births by 2030 from the present level of 23 per 1,000 births.

A major stumbling block is lack of data on stillbirth in the country. A new study by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) has sought to bridge this gap. It involved a population-based assessment of stillbirths with Bihar as a sample state. The study focused on getting insights into the possible risk factors and also the ground level changes that may be needed within the health system to design and implement effective preventive and intervention policies.

The research team collected data from over one lakh families from 38 districts of Bihar with a population of nearly 6.1 lakh individuals. They recorded data of newborn deaths, including stillbirths between January 2011 and March 2014 by interviewing mothers, grandmothers, and health care providers.

They found that the cause of one-third of the stillbirths remained unexplained, while obstetric complications and excessive bleeding contributed to another 30 per cent of the cases. The other causes of stillbirths were poor quality of antenatal care, small size of the foetus, fever during pregnancy, and maternal infection.

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