Worldwide, 15 million babies are born at less than 37 weeks of gestation, and more than 1 million babies die every year from complications related to prematurity.
In a new study published to coincide with the second annual World Prematurity Day on November 17, researchers have found that a relative reduction of premature births of just 5% by 2015 in 39 high-income countries would translate to the annual prevention of prematurity for approximately 58,000 babies worldwide.1
Researchers identified 39 countries, including the United States, as having a very high human development index. Data from the United States showed that the number of preterm births increased from 1989 to 2004, and only half of these preterm births are unexplained. For all 39 countries included in the study, researchers predicted that 5 interventions, if widely adopted, could potentially reduce the preterm birth rate from 9.59% to 9.07%. This 5% relative reduction in the preterm birth rate could prevent about 58,000 preterm births and subsequently save the health care system roughly $3 billion annually.
The 5 interventions, all of which are already available, include the following:
- Smoking cessation.
- Decreasing the incidence of multiple embryo transfers during assisted reproductive technologies.
- Providing cervical cerclage to high-risk women with a short cervix.
- Prescribing progesterone supplementation to women with high-risk pregnancies.
- Eliminating the incidence of labor inductions and cesarean sections that are not medically indicated.
Although the preterm birth rate in the United States currently is declining, high-resource countries must focus vigorously on prevention, advised Christopher Howson, PhD, vice president of Global Programs for the March of Dimes and study coauthor.
“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,” said Hannah H. Chang, MD, PhD, lead study author and consultant for The Boston Consulting Group. “A 5% reduction in the preterm birth rate is an important first step,” Chang continued.
Worldwide, 15 million babies are born at less than 37 weeks of gestation, and more than 1 million babies die every year from complications related to prematurity. In addition, survivors of prematurity often have some form of short- or long-term disability, including respiratory difficulties, cerebral palsy, and motor and intellectual impairments.
- A relative reduction of 5% in preterm birth rates in 39 high-income countries can prevent prematurity in about 58,000 babies and save the health care system approximately $3 billion annually.
- Widely implementing 5 already available interventions have the means to reduce the risk of preterm birth by 5%, from about 9.6% to 9.1%.
1. Chang JJ, Larson J, Blencowe H, et al. Preventing preterm births: analysis of trends and potential reductions with interventions in 39 countries with very high human development index. Lancet. November 16, 2012. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61856-X.