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
Most common questions
How does March of Dimes Global Programs carry out its activities?
March of Dimes Global Programs conducts its work through “mission alliances” with non-governmental partners in target countries. We offer our partners technical expertise and the extensive resources of the March of Dimes, including professional and public health education materials and tools for establishing data collection systems, public awareness campaigns and programs for education of health professionals. We conduct interventions in middle-and low- income countries to strengthen prevention of preterm birth and birth defects and reduce infant mortality. We do this in partnership with a wide variety of organizations, including the World Health Organization and other international health agencies, academic medical centers, non-governmental organizations, parent/patient organizations and other stakeholders.
How severe is the global problem of birth defects and preterm birth?
Every year, nearly 23 million babies worldwide are born prematurely or with a serious birth defect of genetic origin. Over 4 million of these babies die before their 5th birthday and, for those who survive, many face life-long disability. While birth defects and preterm birth affect all countries, the toll is particularly high in developing countries. For more information, see our reports on global toll of prematurity and birth defects.
Where does March of Dimes Global Programs work?
Since its establishment in 1998, March of Dimes Global Programs has conducted partnership projects in 33 countries across Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, South-eastern Europe, Asia and the Western Pacific region. Our current programs are in China, Lebanon and the Philippines.