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March of Dimes announces Prematurity Campaign expansion at Surgeon General's conference

JUNE 16, 2008, BETHESDA, MD The March of Dimes has extended its Prematurity Campaign by 10 years to 2020 and will work to address preterm birth globally. The expansion, announced at the Surgeon General's Conference on Prevention of Preterm Birth, supports the national action plan being created during the two-day conference here to address the growing crisis of preterm birth.

"The March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign has stimulated attention and action around the problem of premature birth, and this Surgeon General's Conference puts preterm birth on the national health care agenda," said Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "As we refine our strategies and renew our commitment through our expanded campaign, we are confident we will continue to find solutions and improve the health of babies at home and globally."

A key element of the expanded campaign will be an annual report card that will grade the nation and each state on its preterm birth rate. The grade will be determined by comparing the preterm birth rate of the state and the nation to the Healthy People 2010 goal. The report card also will focus on key contributing factors to preterm birth, including federal and state policies related to improving access to health coverage for women of childbearing age and children. The first report card will be issued November 12, 2008, as part of March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Day events.

More information about the campaign can be found at

The goal of the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign, launched in 2003, is to reduce the U.S. preterm birth rate by 15 percent. The expanded campaign is expected to address three critical areas:

  1. Accelerated funding for basic research in the United States and globally and to translate the findings into practices that will benefit women of childbearing age.
  2. Expansion of direct services to NICU families to provide them with information in English and Spanish about what to expect in the NICU, a glossary of common medical terminology and conditions, and tested suggestions about how to parent in a NICU.
  3. The creation of Community Intervention Programs, such as March of Dimes Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait, which focuses attention on the challenges posed by late preterm deliveries.

The campaign's global strategy will include the first report on the scope and toll of premature birth worldwide as well as increased collaboration with scientists worldwide to accelerate progress.

Preterm birth (defined as birth before 37 completed weeks gestation) is a serious and costly health problem and is the leading cause of death in the first month of life. More than half a million babies one out of every eight are born too soon each year in the United States, a 20 percent increase since 1990. And, unfortunately, new statistics released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics showed only a slight decline in the nation's overall infant mortality rate or in the proportion of infants who died as a result of an early birth.

Babies who survive an early birth face serious lifelong health problems, including learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss and other chronic conditions, including asthma. Even infants born just a few weeks too soon known as late preterm birth have a greater risk for respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice, delayed brain development and death.

The conference, convened by Acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, MD, MPH, RADM, USPHS, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is being held June 16 and 17 in Rockville, Md.. Experts at the conference will generate an action agenda that will be used to guide the March of Dimes in advocating for expanded federal support for research, education and pilot testing of strategies to prevent preterm birth.


Contact: Michele Kling
March of Dimes Foundation

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