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Most Of World’s 13M Preterm Births Occur In Africa, Asia

The “vast majority” of the world’s 13 million preterm births each year occur in developing countries where the babies’ “chances of survivals are low,” according to an article published Monday in the January issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Reuters reports. The findings are based on research conducted between the mid-1990s and 2007 (1/4).

Lead study author Lale Say, of the WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said that almost 11 million of the premature births occurred in Africa and Asia, “where many do not have access to effective care,” the Manila Bulletin reports. “A baby weighing less than 2000g (born at approximately 32 weeks of gestation) has little chance of survival if born in a developing country,” according to Say. “On the other hand, a baby born at 32 weeks in a developed country has similar survival chances as one born at full term” (Sabater, 1/5).

According to a WHO press release, approximately 10 percent of births worldwide are premature, which means they occur before 37 weeks gestation. But the “rate ranges between 3.8 percent for countries in central Asia and 17.5 percent in southern Africa. When comparing high-income regions, North America has a much higher rate (10.6 percent) of premature birth than Europe (6.2 percent)” (1/4). 

“The large numbers of premature births in Asia – mainly in and around the Indian sub-continent where the average is 11.4 percent – and Africa, where in the southern region it reaches 17.5 percent, were largely due to absence of drugs to treat infections suffered by mothers during pregnancy,” Reuters writes (1/4).

Say said, “Considering the dramatic rise in preterm births over the past 20 years shown in countries with accurate data, preterm birth continues to represent a significant health problem. Improving access to effective care, in particular in developing countries, must remain a priority,” the Manila Bulletin reports (1/5).