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More Than 1 Million Babies Worldwide Born Prematurely Die in First Month, Study Says

Each year more than 1 million babies born prematurely – before 37 weeks of development in the womb or within the first month of life – the “March of Dimes said Sunday in the first comprehensive global report on premature births,” CNN reports. Nearly 10 percent of total births worldwide, or 12.9 million infants, are preterm, the study found (10/4).

“The problem is concentrated in poor countries, with the vast majority of … premature babies born each year in Africa and Asia [based on total numbers], according to the report,” the Associated Press/ New York Times writes (10/4). In Africa, 11.9 percent of babies are born premature, followed by North America (10.6 percent), Asia (9.1 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (8.1 percent), Australia and New Zealand (6.4 percent) and Europe (6.2 percent), the Washington Post reports (Brown, 10/5).

The report notes, “Wherever trend data are available, rates of preterm birth are increasing.” In addition, “babies who survive premature birth face lifelong health risks, including the possible development of cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, learning disabilities and other chronic conditions, according to the March of Dimes,” CNN writes (10/4).

Christopher Howson, a March of Dimes researcher who worked on the report, said that not much is known about the causes of preterm birth in the developing world. But he said malnutrition, malaria, anemia and inadequate prenatal care are probably contributing factors, the Washington Post reports (10/5).

According to Agence France-Presse, Jennifer Howse, March of Dimes’ president, said, “If world leaders are serious about reaching the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health, then strategies and funding for reducing death and disability related to preterm birth must receive priority” (10/4).

The new paper includes data from the WHO Bulletin. In a March of Dimes/EurekAlert! release, the organization said the WHO’s “figures are conservative –counting only singleton preterm births, for example– and likely underestimates the true magnitude of the worldwide crisis of preterm birth” (10/4).