Written by Phil Carroll, MPH, Save the Children‘s Associate Director of Media and Communications
Today marks the 3rd annual World Prematurity Day. Since its founding, much awareness has been raised about the risks associated with being born preterm, but the fact remains that prematurity is still the leading cause of newborn deaths worldwide.
And it’s getting worse.
Preterm birth rates around the globe are increasing and are now responsible for 35 percent of the world’s neonatal deaths; the condition is the second-leading cause of death among children under five, after pneumonia.
One of the striking things about prematurity is that it’s not just an “over there” problem. In fact, here in the U.S. the problem remains more common than in most other industrialized nations.
I experienced this first-hand just last week. I was in Kenya for a work meeting, and during a routine check-in call with my family, I was told that my pregnant cousin, whose due date was around Christmas, had just delivered a baby boy – a full six weeks early.
Having worked in the public health field for most of my career, I immediately knew how dangerous the situation was and felt helpless that I was literally halfway around the world and couldn’t be with my family.
I also knew that, according to research released today in Nature, her baby, because he was male, was more at risk of death and disability than had my cousin given birth to a girl.
According to Save the Children’s Joy Lawn, M.D., PhD, the team leader of the new research, “these disabilities range from learning problems and blindness to deafness and motor problems, including cerebral palsy.”
Luckily, because my cousin acted swiftly and had access to a top-notch hospital, both she and her new baby are doing just fine today.
Women like her in the developing world are not as lucky, but they still have access to low-cost, high-impact interventions that can save their babies’ lives. Kangaroo Mother Care, for example, a simple process of keeping babies skin to skin with their mothers, has been estimated to save up to half a million newborns each year if it was promoted everywhere.
Please take the time to signal your support by joining the World Prematurity Day Facebook page and tell our world leaders that while too many babies are still being born too soon, they are not born to die.
Photo credit: Phil Carroll/Save the Children