Every two seconds, somewhere in the world, a baby is born too soon. Premature birth affects 15 million babies every year and 1 million of them die. Those who survive often have serious disabilities including cerebral palsy, has blindness, hearing loss and learning disabilities.
The United States has the highest rate of preterm birth of any developed country. One in 9 American babies need the lifesaving care of a neonatal intensive care unit. Our high tech NICUs save lives but at an enormous cost for families, businesses and society. The Institute of Medicine estimates the total economic burden of premature birth at $26 billion, including medical care, special education and lost productivity. The March of Dimes estimates that employers pay $12 billion annually for first-year medical costs.
In 2003 the March of Dimes launched a National Prematurity Prevention Campaign through partnerships and programs with health providers and consumer education, we have achieved a gradual but steady decline in our preterm birth rate over the last seven years, to the current rate of 11.4 percent in 2013. We estimate that over that time, 231,000 fewer babies have been born premature.
Now is the time for our country to aim higher. The March of Dimes recommends that our nation set a goal to cut our preterm birth rate in half by 2030. This may sound audacious, but why can’t the United States be the best country for newborn health?
November 17th is World Prematurity Day when families in more than 60 countries around the world will call attention to prematurity as the number one killer of children 0-5 years old. Anne Geddes’ beautiful image of Baby Alfred from Sydney, Australia reminds us all that babies cannot fight for themselves.
It’s up to all of us to fight for better health for the next generation of children, here in America and around the world.
Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, is president of the March of Dimes Foundation.