March of DimesDid you know that more one million infants apparently die every year because they are born premature? This estimation is as per the just released White Paper, The Global and Regional Toll of Preterm Birth. Experts also mentioned that the maximum preterm birth rates in the world are supposed to be found in Africa, and is followed by North America i.e. United States and Canada combined.

Preterm birth is approximately 9.6 % all over the world. Even if all countries are affected, the global distribution is apparently not uniform. It is said to be pretty severe in Africa and Asia, where about 85% of all preterm births take place. If the preterm birth rates across the world are compared, it was found that it is apparently highest in Africa i.e. 11.9 percent or 4 million babies every year. Africa is supposedly followed by North America, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania i.e. Australia and New Zealand combined, and Europe.

It is apparently believed that the WHO Bulletin figures apparently count only singleton preterm births and may probably undervalue the real size of the worldwide crisis of preterm birth.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, commented, “Premature births are an enormous global problem that is exacting a huge toll emotionally, physically, and financially on families, medical systems and economies. In the United States alone, the annual cost of caring for preterm babies and their associated health problems tops $26 billion annually.”

The rate of preterm birth is increasing day by day. For instance, the rate of preterm birth in the US has apparently risen about 36 percent in the last 25 years. Some of the factors which may add to this crisis are the increase in the amount of pregnancies in women over age 35. Some of them use assisted reproduction techniques which apparently result in twins and multiple births and an increase in the quantity of late preterm births which is defined as between 34 and 36 weeks gestation.

Babies who survive a preterm birth could face the danger of grave lifelong health issues like cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and other chronic conditions. Even infants born late preterm apparently have a bigger threat of re-hospitalization, breathing problems, feeding difficulties, temperature instability i.e. hypothermia, jaundice and delayed brain development. Some threat issues leading to preterm births could be recognized prior to or during pregnancy. For instance, women apparently are at a bigger risk if they have had a preterm bay before.

Some preterm births could be averted by dealing with some adjustable risk factors. Some of them being maintaining nutrition and body weight. Existing medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes ought to be under control. One should avoid alcohol, tobacco and secondhand smoke. One could opt for voluntary induction and optional Cesarean delivery.

Christopher P. Howson, Ph.D., vice president for Global Programs of the March of Dimes, mentioned, “While much can be done right now to reduce death and disability from preterm birth even in low-resource settings, we need to know more about the underlying causes of premature birth in order to develop effective prevention strategies.”

Some countries apparently have good health statistics and information systems or birth surveillance registries. This was mentioned by the authors of the White Paper. Thereby the data on the amount of preterm births and associated deaths are believed to be inadequate.

Mario Merialdi, M.D., of WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, one of the editors of the White Paper and an author of the study published in The Bulletin of WHO, remarked, “This was a first attempt to estimate the worldwide scale of the problem. As a first step, it is necessary to improve data on the extent of the problem.”

He mentioned that WHO is presently enhancing its database on preterm birth so as to maintain decision-making in this area.

Apparently there is no internationally established categorization of preterm birth or glossary of terms.

Joy E. Lawn, MRCP, of Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children USA, mentioned, “We need to at least adopt common definitions and agree on what is a preterm baby.”

Dr. Lawn believes there is a pressing requirement for more country and regional data on the apparent occurrence of acute and long-term health issues and harm caused by preterm birth.

This data is being presented at the 4th International Conference on Birth Defects and Disabilities in the Developing World which will be held in early October in New Delhi, India.