March of Dimes white paper on preterm birth

The global toll of preterm birth is severe. An estimated 28 percent of the 4 million annual neonatal deaths are due to preterm birth. Approximately 12.9 million babies are born too soon ever year, a global prevalence of preterm birth of 9.6 percent. The regional toll of preterm birth is particularly heavy for Africa and Asia where more than 85 percent of all preterm births occur.

The highest rate of preterm birth by UN region according to the data available is in Africa; followed by (in descending order) North America (Canada and the United States combined); Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; Oceania (Australia and New Zealand); and Europe.

Wherever trend data are available, rates of preterm birth are increasing. For example, the rate of preterm birth in the United States has increased 36 percent in the past 25 years. The increase in the rate of late preterm births (between 34 and 36 weeks gestation) accounts for most of the increase. Whether the rate of preterm birth is also increasing in low- and middle income countries remains unknown.

There are huge gaps in data on preterm birth prevalence, mortality, acute morbidity and long-term impairment in certain regions and countries such as Africa, Central Asia and China. However, all countries, including rich nations, need to strengthen their data collection systems.

Strategies for reducing death and disability related to preterm birth must be given priority, particularly if the world is to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 for child survival. Many of these same strategies will also contribute to MDG-5, the improvement of women’s health.
Download an electronic copy of The March of Dimes White Paper on Preterm Birth: The Global and Regional Toll

See also: March of Dimes global report on birth defects

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