Photo: A premature baby is shown in the postnatal ward at Cama Hospital, a major hospital for women and children, in Mumbai, India. UN Photo/Mark Garten
Premature births are now the number one killer of babies globally. Of the 6.3 million children under five who died last year, 1.1 million of them died due to complications from premature births. Most of these deaths occured within the first month of life, according to new research published in The Lancet.
“This marks a turning of the tide, a transition from infections to neonatal conditions, especially those related to premature births, and this will require entirely different medical and public health approaches,” says Joy Lawn, M.D., Ph.D., of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, a member of the research team and a long-term advisor to Save the Children. “The success we’ve seen in the ongoing fight against infectious diseases demonstrates that we can also be successful if we invest in prevention and care for preterm birth.”
Today is the the fourth World Prematurity Day, a global awareness campaign that focuses on the number of newborns that die every year and ways in which we can help those numbers decline. With heightened attention on premature births it is only a matter of time before global prematurity rates improve just as the overall child mortality statistics have improved steadily since 1990.
On World Prematurity Day, it is important to understand the scope of premature births globally. Here are seven facts about prematurity you might not have known.
- The U.S. still has one of the worst preterm birth rates of any developed country at 28.1 percent.
- Other developed countries have higher rates of premature birth rates than the United States including Denmark (43.0 percent), United Kingdom (38.7 percent), Switzerland (32.7 percent), Germany and Canada (29.1 percent).
- More than 75% of global newborn deaths occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
- The countries with the highest numbers of children under-five dying from preterm birth complications each year are: India (361,600), Nigeria (98,300), Pakistan (75,000), Democratic Republic of the Congo (40,600), China (37,200), Bangladesh (26,100), Indonesia (25,800), Ethiopia (24,400), Angola (15,900) and Kenya (13,300).
- Latin America has helped to reduce newborn mortality in part by scaling up Kangaroo Mother Care, skin-to-skin contact, for preterm babies.
- Spacing births through voluntary family planning is key to reducing the risk of preterm births.
- Giving antenatal steroids to develop a premature baby’s lungs to a mom in preterm labor can save 400K lives per year.