World Prematurity Day
17 November 2014
WHO will join thousands of people worldwide in marking this year’s World Prematurity Day on 17 November 2014. Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm, which is defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.
This is more than one in 10 babies – and these numbers are rising. The annual event, which takes place across the world, brings people together to raise awareness of the global problem of preterm birth, which is the leading cause of death globally in children under the age of five.
The global burden of preterm birth
Whilst 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, preterm birth is a global problem. There is however, a dramatic difference in the survival of premature babies depending on where they are born. More than 90% of extremely preterm babies (less than 28 weeks) born in low-income countries die within the first few days of life, whereas less than 10% of extremely preterm babies die in high-income settings. World Prematurity Day is a crucial moment to reflect and commit to action to help address these inequities and to prevent unnecessary deaths and health problems caused by preterm birth.
About the day
Almost one million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth. Many survivors may face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems. World Prematurity Day helps to raise awareness of current, cost-effective interventions which can help to address these issues. This includes essential care during childbirth and in the postnatal period for every mother and baby, including antenatal steroid injections (given to pregnant women at risk of preterm labour to strengthen the babies’ lungs), kangaroo mother care (when the baby is carried by the mother with skin-to-skin contact and frequent breastfeeding), and antibiotics to treat newborn infections.
WHO is committed to preventing and reducing the health problems and lives lost as a result of preterm birth. In 2012, WHO published with partners Born Too Soon: the global action report on preterm birth, which included the first-ever estimates of preterm birth by country. In addition WHO is working with Member States and partners to implement Every Newborn: An Action Plan to End Preventable Deaths, which was endorsed by the 67th World Health Assembly in May 2014. The Action Plan contributes to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, and helps to highlight preterm birth as a global priority, particularly for inclusion within the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.
Research and action
World Prematurity Day 2014 underlines the crucial importance of research for addressing the causes of preterm birth, as well as improving treatment and care of babies, mothers and their families. An improved understanding of preterm birth will assist in advancing the development of solutions which could help to end preventable deaths.
WHO is working with partners around the world to conduct research into the causes of preterm birth. This includes work with with Member States to strengthen the availability and quality of data on preterm births, and testing effectiveness and delivery approaches for interventions to prevent preterm birth and provide the best possible care for babies that are born preterm. WHO is also providing updated estimates of the global burden of preterm birth and updating evidence-based clinical guidelines. In addition, WHO is working on developing tools in order to improve health workers’ skills dealing with preterm birth, as well as to assess the quality of care provided to preterm babies and their families.