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Preterm Birth Can Be Prevented With Proven Treatments

November 16, 2012

Global partners challenge 39 high-income countries

Lowering preterm birth rates by an average of 5 percent across 39 high-resource countries, including the United States, by 2015 would prevent prematurity for 58,000 babies a year, a group of international experts said today.

In an article published in The Lancet to coincide with the second annual World Prematurity Day, the expert group say prevention of preterm birth also could save billions in economic costs.

“Governments and health professionals in these 39 countries need to know that wider use of proven interventions can help more women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies,” says lead author Hannah H. Chang, M.D., PhD, a consultant for The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). “A 5 percent reduction in the preterm birth rate is an important first step.”

“The preterm birth rate in the U.S. currently is on the decline, but for this trend to continue, it’s critical that high-resource countries such as ours focus vigorously on prevention,” says Christopher Howson, PhD, vice president of Global Programs for the March of Dimes, a co-author.

The authors of The Lancet article say that five proven interventions, when combined, would lower the preterm rate across 39 countries from an average 9.6 percent of live births to 9.1 percent, and save about $3 billion in health and economic costs:

-eliminating early cesarean deliveries and inductions of labor unless medically necessary;
-decreasing multiple embryo transfers during assisted reproductive technologies;
-helping women quit smoking;
-providing progesterone supplementation to women with high risk pregnancies;
-cervical cerclage for high-risk women with short cervix

“The means to reduce the risk of preterm birth by 5 percent are already available,” says Catherine Y. Spong, M.D., Associate Director for Extramural Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Continued research into the causes of preterm birth has the potential to reduce the proportion of infants born preterm even further.”

Preterm birth, birth before 37 weeks completed gestation, is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face a lifetime of health challenges, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy, motor and intellectual disabilities and others.

The 5 percent figure builds on recommendations from the May 2012 publication Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, which presented the first-ever preterm birth data for 184 countries and outlined steps that all countries could take to help prevent preterm birth and care for affected newborns. About 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm each year and more than one million of these die as a direct result of their early birth. According to Born Too Soon, the U.S. preterm birth rate ranked 131st out of 184 countries.

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