May 9, 2009

Group targets premature births

Premature birth can happen to any woman anywhere and some 200 experts met in Seattle this week to discuss ways to help more of the early arrivals survive.

Although technology helps save many preemies, more than 1 million die worldwide each year and an additional 3 million babies are stillborn, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

It happens to women in Seattle and Sri Lanka, said Dr. Craig Rubens, of Seattle Children's hospital and executive director of the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, or GAPPS. It happens to women who go to every prenatal appointment, and it happens to women who simply cannot see a doctor while they are pregnant.

The newspaper said GAPPS was started in 2007 by Rubens and his colleagues. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided $1.5 million for the effort, which is also supported by UNICEF, Save the Children, among other organizations.

Prematurity and stillbirth collectively claim more lives each year than malaria, tuberculosis or AIDS, yet get very little attention from researchers or the public, said Dr. Joy Lawn, of Save the Children.

In the United States, about one in eight babies are born early.

We have technology to improve survival, Rubens said. We don't know how to prevent premature births.