Delivering action on preterm births

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This article was originally published in The Lancet 

Every year, roughly 15 million babies—more than one in ten—are born prematurely, and about a million die from complications associated with preterm birth. World Prematurity Day, on Nov 17, is an opportunity to assess progress in tackling premature birth worldwide.

There is some cause for optimism. According to the March of Dimes 2013 report card, issued earlier this month, preterm births in the USA dropped to a 15-year low in 2012, with several states awarded an A rating for reaching the target of 9·6%—a goal the organisation hopes can be achieved across the country by 2020. In The Lancet, Rebecca Kadaga and colleagues describe some encouraging actions taken in Brazil and Uganda since last year’s World Prematurity Day, including commitments to proven intervention strategies for preterm neonates.

About three-quarters of the deaths associated with preterm birth could be prevented with currently available, cost-effective interventions such as kangaroo mother care, antenatal corticosteroids, and antibiotics for preterm babies with infections—even in the absence of neonatal intensive care. Implementation of existing interventions in low-income and middle-income countries must therefore be a top priority. Another important aim is to improve our understanding about preterm birth and how it might be prevented. In The Lancet Global Health, Eve Lackritz and colleagues describe a comprehensive research agenda for preterm birth, covering prediction and early detection, prevention, and care of preterm infants.

Substantial progress is needed in both research and implementation to reduce morbidity and mortality for newborn babies worldwide. Next year, The Lancet will publish a new Series on neonatal survival, which will provide the basis for the Every Newborn action plan, due to launch at the World Health Assembly in May, 2014. These publications are the collaborative effort of many international organisations, aimed especially at improving the quality of care for women and children around the time of birth. This initiative provides an ideal opportunity to focus efforts on promoting the health of all newborn babies, including those born too soon.

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