|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference To Launch ‘Born Too Soon: Global Action Report on Preterm Birth’
Three quarters of the 1.1 million pre-term babies who died each year around the world could be saved with a few simple and inexpensive interventions, said experts today as they launched a new report on premature births during a Headquarters press conference.
“No woman should die giving life, and no child should die from a preventable and treatable condition,” said Carole Presern, Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, as she introduced the joint report.
Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth brought together national, regional and global estimates on prematurity, she said, adding that the global strategy which it laid out promoted action and accountability “at every step of the life cycle”. Its creation was motivated by the fact that newborn deaths — those in the first month of life — accounted for 40 per cent of all deaths of children under five, while prematurity was the second leading cause of all child deaths, after pneumonia. Many preterm babies who survived suffered from some type of lifelong physical, neurological or educational disability.
The WHO partnership was made up of some 460 members, she said, such as United Nations entities, non-governmental organizations, donors and Governments. Joining Ms. Presern today were Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations; Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health; Joy Lawn, of Save the Children; and Lauren and Adam Pallone, representatives of the March of Dimes (US Parent Alliance).
Taking the floor, Mr. Li underscored the fact that 15 million pre-term babies were born around the world each year and that, of those, 1.1 million did not survive. It was estimated that 75 per cent of those deaths could be prevented with simple, economical prevention and treatment methods. The report, which detailed many of those methods, was therefore an important document for guiding public policy and building awareness, in particular, in developing countries.
In recent years, he said, China had taken serious measures to increase financial and human resources for public health, which had seen improvement. The country was committed to deepening the reform of its public health system, with women and children as a priority, and a solid legal system and a strong medical care network for infant and maternal care were now in place. Indeed, he said, China had reached the Millennium Development Goal target for reducing its infant mortality rate ahead of schedule. A new national health plan for 2011-2020 was also in place, setting ambitious goals for the next decade.
“Prevention of pre-term births must be accelerated,” said Ms. Lawn, noting that premature births were on the rise around the world. The 1.1 million children who died as a result of prematurity was double the number that died of malaria and six times the number that died as a result of HIV, she said, adding that there was a large global knowledge gap in the area of prevention. And while pre-term birth was a leading cause of death in both low- and high-income countries, a “sobering” discrepancy in care existed: babies in wealthy countries, who had access to advanced technology, had a 90 per cent chance of survival, while premature babies born in low-income countries, who lacked access to care, had only a 10 per cent chance. “But we don’t have to accept that,” she stressed, noting that the report provided an action plan to help reduce such deaths in all countries.
Among the prevention and treatment interventions outlined in the report, Ms. Lawn highlighted the “kangaroo mother care” method, a practice in which a mother’s own body heat kept premature babies warm through skin-to-skin contact. Other methods described in the report included interventions to prolong pregnancy, such as the provision of agents that suppressed labour; ways to improve health outcomes of a premature baby while still “in utero”, such as the provision of antenatal corticosteroids or antibiotics; neonatal resuscitation, when necessary; and simple infection prevention among premature newborns.
“The report shines light on one of the challenges that is critical in making progress on women and children’s health,” said Ms. Bustreo. The time of birth was one of extreme vulnerability for both mother and the newborn. For example, of the 120 million babies born each year, about 50 million were born at home. Those children would lack access to basic services and were most at risk if prematurity did occur; they also lacked birth and death registration, contributing to gaps in data.
Less than two years ago, she recalled, the United Nations Secretary-General had helped WHO launch a Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, and many countries had committed to efforts in that regard. WHO was charged with creating mechanisms to keep track of those commitments and had established a commission to do so. In September, the organization would present a report on the results of those commitments. In addition, on 14 and 15 June, the Governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia would convene a “Child Survival Forum”, bringing together partners to advance commitments in child survival.
Speaking about their personal experience as parents of a child born prematurely were Mr. and Mrs. Pallone. The father shared that his wife had suffered from preeclampsia, a condition that affected 10 per cent of all mothers, and she had undergone an emergency caesarian section. Their daughter, Kendall, who was now almost 2 years old, had weighed less than two pounds at birth; she had suffered brain damage had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and numerous other ailments. The family’s medical bills had totaled more than $1.2 million, he said. “This experience is one that we wish on no one,” added Mrs. Pallone, acknowledging nonetheless that her daughter was one of the “lucky ones” who survived.
During a brief question-and-answer session, one correspondent wondered why the United States had such a high rate of pre-term births — 12 per cent of all births. Ms. Lawn noted several factors that contributed to the rising number of premature births in that country. For example, older women were getting pregnant, chronic diseases such diabetes were on the rise, and there was an increasing tendency towards “mistimed” elective caesarian section procedures. The March of Dimes had been part of a national campaign to address those issues, she added.
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