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10-06-2012 | Gynaecology | Article

Shocking data for global preterm birth rates


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MedWire News: The rate of preterm births has decreased significantly in only three countries around the world since 1990, with the USA still having one of the highest rates, shows a study in The Lancet.

This first-ever analysis of national-level estimates and time series pertaining to global prematurity rates also shows that nearly 15 million babies were born prematurely in 2010, accounting for more than one in 10 of all births.

Of these preterm births, 60% took place in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, preterm births also significantly affect developed nations, the study results show, with the USA accounting for 517,000 preterm births and ranking in the top 10 countries with the highest number of preterm births in 2010.

Of 65 countries with time-trend analyses available, only Croatia, Ecuador, and Estonia showed significant reductions in estimated preterm birth rates from 1990 to 2010.

Meanwhile, the average rate in the 65 countries increased from 7.5% in 1990 (two million preterm births) to 8.6% in 2010 (2.2 million preterm births).

The European countries that showed the greatest average annual increases in preterm rates since 1990 included Cyprus (2.8%), Slovenia (2.6%), Belgium (2.5%), Austria (2.3%), and Spain (2.2%).

Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and France also showed annual rate increases, at 2.1%, 1.9%, 1.9%, and 1.6%, respectively.

The UK and Bosnia showed annual increases in preterm birth rates of 1.5% each, while the USA demonstrated an increase of just 0.7%.

"Our estimates highlight a fact that has received little attention," said lead author Joy Lawn (Save the Children, Cape Town, South Africa) in a press statement.

"Most European countries have about half the preterm birth rate of the USA, but whilst the US rate has leveled off, European rates, even in Scandinavian countries, are increasing."

Editorialist Nils-Halvdan Morken (University of Bergen, Norway) points out that while "the economic burden from preterm birth is, of course, less important than human suffering," the cost to the healthcare system of preterm births is significant.

He adds that the economic implications are very important in "the communication of the extent of this health issue to politicians and health authorities, nationally and internationally."

The study included data from a number of sources including the National Registries and Reproductive Health Surveys, and employed statistical modeling to assess data from 184 countries.

The estimates provided by the report were produced for the World Health Organization and were also published in their "Born Too Soon" report.

By Piriya Mahendra

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