Globally 1 in 10 Babies Are Born Prematurely, Says WHO Study: Why It Matters

13.4 million babies were born prematurely in the year 2020, says a new WHO study.

2 min read

One in every 10 live births globally are preterm, says a new study by the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Published on Friday, 6 October, the study reveals that there are approximately 13.4 million babies were born prematurely in the year 2020– before the completion of the 37 weeks of pregnancy.

The Big Point:

In India, a total of 3.02 million early births were reported, making it the highest number of preterm births in the world. This accounts for over 20 percent of the total preterm births reported globally.

The study also found that 65 percent of the total number of preterm births were reported from southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the study, this was the percentage of preterm births in some countries: 

  • Bangladesh - 16.2 percent 

  • Malawi - 14.5 percent 

  • Pakistan - 14.4 percent 

  • India - 13.1 percent 

  • United States - 10 percent

  • Greece- 11.6 percent

Why Does it Matter? Preterm births have been reported as the leading cause of neonatal deaths – that is the deaths of children below the age of five. 

Moreover, babies born prematurely are at a higher risk of suffering from illnesses, development delays, and conditions like diabetes and heart diseases.

“Preterm babies are especially vulnerable to life-threatening health complications and they need special care and attention," said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at WHO in a press statement. He further added,

"These numbers show an urgent need for serious investment in services available to support them and their families as well as a greater focus on prevention – in particular, ensuring access to quality health care before and during every pregnancy."
Dr Anshu Banerjee

Some of the risk factors that increase the risk of premature births include:

  • Adolescent pregnancies

  • Poor nutrition

  • Infections

  • Smoking during pregnancy

The Larger Context: The study was carried out in 103 countries between 2010 and 2020.

It recommends the urgent need for antenatal care and maternal healthcare improvement.

The study also suggests the need for an in-depth study by individual countries to assess their needs and model their policies accordingly to reduce the rate of preterm births.

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