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May 2, 2012

15 Million Babies Born Too Soon, Over 1 Million Die Each Year

Each year, nearly 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely, according to a new report Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth. The report, which is based on data provided by the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG), also shows that preterm birth is on the rise in most countries, and is now the second leading cause of death globally for children under five, after pneumonia.

The Born Too Soon report provides the first-ever national, regional and global estimates of preterm birth. The report was issued by the March of Dimes, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, Save the Children, and the World Health Organization, with contributions from nearly 50 international, regional and national organizations including Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Preterm birth is a serious problem in both developing and developed countries. Nearly one in 10 births is premature and over one million of these babies dies each year shortly after birth,” said Jennifer Requejo, PhD, a contributing author of the report and an investigator with the Institute for International Programs at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “In addition to defining the scope of the problem, our report lays out comprehensive strategies  for  reducing preterm births and improving newborn survival.”

Among the key findings of the report, of the 11 countries with preterm birth rates above 15 percent, all but 2 are in sub-Saharan Africa. Sixty percent of all preterm births occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the poorest countries, on average, 12 percent of babies are born too soon, compared to 9 percent in higher-income countries. The U.S. ranks in the top 10 among countries with the highest number of preterm births—12 percent, or more than one in nine of all births, are preterm.  

“Two-thirds of the premature babies who die each year could be saved if current cost-effective interventions such as breastfeeding support, thermal care, and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties were made available to all. There is an urgent need for vigorous and well-funded research to improve implementation of these interventions and to increase our understanding of why preterm birth occurs so that effective preventive interventions can be developed and brought to scale,” said Requejo.

The full report is available at www.everywomaneverychild.org.

Media contact: Tim Parsons, director of Public Affairs, at 410-955-7619 or tmparson@jhsph.edu.