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‘Born Too Soon: Decade of Action on Preterm Birth’: India among Top 5 Countries of Higher Pre-term Births

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India among top 5 countries where babies born too soonAccording to the report  ‘Born Too Soon: Decade of Action on Preterm Birth’, published on May 10, 2023, almost half of all pre-term births (babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy) in 2020 happened in five countries of India, Pakistan, Nigeria, China and Ethiopia.

  • The report alarms ‘silent emergency’, as for every 10 babies born, 1 is preterm, and every 40 seconds, 1 of those babies dies.
  • The report was created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) together with PMNCH, the world’s largest alliance for women, children, and adolescents.

Key Findings of the Report:

i.An estimated 13.4 million babies were born pre-term in 2020 with nearly one million dying from complications. This is equivalent to around one in 10 babies.

ii.In 2020, Bangladesh had the highest estimated pre-term birth rate (16.2%), followed by Malawi (14.5%) and Pakistan (14.4%). India and South Africa, at an estimated 13% each.

iii.India tops the list of pre-term birth numbers with 30.16 lakh births, Pakistan is at 9.14 lakh, Nigeria at 7.74 lakh and China at 7.52 lakh.

iv.As per the report only 1 in 10 extremely preterm babies (less than 28 weeks) survive in low-income countries, compared to more than 9 in 10 in high-income countries.

v.Over a decade:

  • Overall, the preterm birth rates have not changed in any region in the world in the past decade, with 152 million vulnerable babies born too soon from 2010 to 2020.
  • The global pre-term birth rate was 9.9% in 2020, compared to 9.8% in 2010.

vi.Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rates of preterm birth, and preterm babies in these regions face the highest mortality risk. Together, these two regions account for more than 65% of preterm births globally.

  • The pre-term birth rate in Southern Asia was 13.3% in 2010 and 13.2% in 2020, and in sub-Saharan Africa at 10.1% in both 2010 and 2020.

vii.Preterm birth is now the leading cause of child deaths, accounting for more than 1 in 5 of all deaths of children occurring before their fifth birthday.

  • Maternal health risks, such as adolescent pregnancy and pre-eclampsia, are closely linked to preterm births.

Additional info: The report includes updated estimates from WHO and UNICEF, prepared with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, on the prevalence of preterm births.

India’s Initiative: The government of India has launched many programmes such as the India Newborn Action Plan and Rashtriya Bal Suraksha Karyakram and has set up many Speciality Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) to overcome the preterm birth issue.

Points to be Noted:

  • Preterm birth: It is a live birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
  • Neonatal death: Death of a live-born baby within 0-28 days, irrespective of gestational age or weight.
  • Stillbirths: fetal death after 22 weeks of gestation (28 weeks of gestation is used by WHO for comparing rates)