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U.S. Ranks Poorly in Rate of Premature Births

The March of Dimes, the World Health Organization, and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health sponsored a three-year “Born Too Soon” report assessing the rate of premature births in 184 nations. In 2010, 15 million babies were born premature, or before 37 weeks of the full 40-week gestational period. Preterm births have become the second leading cause of death, after pneumonia, in children under the age of 5, accounting for almost half of infant deaths worldwide.

The United States ranks 130th of the 184 nations included in the study with a preterm birth rate of 12 percent; the ranking follows similarly in Somalia, Thailand, and Turkey. Since the 1990s, only Crotia, Ecuador, and Estonia have succeed in lowering their rate of premature births, which has been attributed to the end of a war in Cortia and a greater investment in protecting the health of infants in Ecuador and Estonia as the countries acquired more wealth.

The poverty seen in less developed countries make the reasons for prematurity clear: inadequate prenatal care, infections such as malaria and HIV, high blood pressure, obesity or underweight, substance abuse, and diabetes. In richer countries, such as the U.S causation is less evident but has been linked to more women over the age of 35 giving birth, multiple pregnancies with twins or triplets as a result of fertility drugs, and a higher occurrence of induction or Cesarean deliveries for convenience rather than medical necessity. Experts agree that more research is necessary to fully understand the triggers of premature birth.

Pediatrician Joy Lawn of Save the Children believes the infant mortality rate of preterm babies could be reduced by 75 percent by teaching mothers a “kangaroo style” of care in which infants are carried on the chest for warmth, and an injection of corticosteroids to help develop fetal lungs for mothers in premature labor has also been suggested as an inexpensive solution, costing only $1.

Whatever the solution, many are committed to lowering the rate of premature births worldwide. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed to donating $1.5B over four years to support and fund new intervention efforts, while the March of Dimes plans to spend $20M each year to further study causation and improve access to prenatal care.


The full “Born Too Soon” report can he accessed here.

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