The alarming statistics appear in the new report “Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth” released yesterday by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the World Health Organization, and highlight the need for more research into the causes of preterm birth and how to prevent it.
According to one of the report’s authors, Dr. Ramkumar Menon of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the risk factors of preterm birth are understudied. “Each individual’s risk factor is unique and they need to be dealt on a case by case basis and addressed at personal level,” he said. “The manifestation of the risk in every woman is not the same and they need to be studied and addressed.”
According to the report, wide differences within countries were found. For example, in the United States the preterm birth rate in 2009 for black Americans was as high as 17.5 percent, compared with 10.9 percent for white Americans. The age of the mother made a significant difference. In the U.S., the preterm birth rate for women aged 20 to 35 was between 11-12 percent; it was more than 15 percent for women under 17 and over 40.
Menon, a member of UTMB’s division of maternal-fetal medicine, believes that an understanding of the science behind preterm birth should be given priorities in research funding along with creating awareness of the syndrome. “A universal approach in managing preterm birth will fail,” said Menon.
Preterm birth — defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy — is a complex heterogeneous disease that not only impacts the pregnant mother and baby but also impacts the society where preterm babies are at high risk for adult-onset diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers. Survivors of premature birth often face a lifetime of disability, including serious infections, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and respiratory, vision, hearing, learning and developmental problems.
“Born Too Soon” was released yesterday by Save the Children, The March of Dimes Foundation, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and The World Health Organization. With contributions from more than 100 experts representing almost 50 agencies, universities, organizations and parent groups, the report includes the first-ever country ranking of preterm birth rates.
In support of the “Every Woman, Every Child” effort to advance the Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health, UTMB and more than 30 organizations have provided commitments to advance the prevention and care of preterm birth. The statements in the report will now become part of the overall set of commitments to the Global Strategy, and will be monitored annually through 2015 by the independent Expert Review Group established by the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.
For the complete text of each commitment and for more information, please visit www.everywomaneverychild.org/borntoosoon.
Countries with the greatest numbers of preterm births:
1. India – 3,519,100
2. China – 1,172,300
3. Nigeria – 773,600
4. Pakistan – 748,100
5. Indonesia – 675,700
6. United States – 517,400
7. Bangladesh – 424,100
8. Philippines – 348,900
9. Democratic Republic of the Congo – 341,400
10. Brazil – 279,300