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5 Steps Would Lower Preemie Rates in Richest Countries: Study

FRIDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- About 58,000 premature births could be prevented each year if the world's 39 richest nations implemented five recommended measures to prevent preterm birth, a new study suggests.

The study also said that the reduction in premature births would save those countries about $3 billion a year in related medical and economic costs. Nearly half of those savings would be in the United States, where there are more than half a million preterm babies delivered every year.

The researchers assessed the impact of five evidence-based interventions to reduce premature birth: reducing the use of elective cesarean sections and induced labor; getting pregnant women to stop smoking; limiting multiple embryo transfers in assisted reproductive technology; progesterone supplementation; and cervical cerclage, which is a surgical procedure that can prevent preterm birth in some women.

The impact of these interventions on premature births would vary from an 8 percent reduction in the United States to a 2 percent reduction in the U.K., according to the study, published Nov. 15 in The Lancet.

The average 5 percent reduction that could be achieved by implementing the five interventions is "shockingly small," study author Dr. Joy Lawn, of Save the Children, said in a journal news release. She added that more research is needed to find better ways to prevent preterm birth.

Each year, about 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and about 1.1 million of them die. Most of those deaths occur in poor countries, where the infants die from lack of simple care. The issue is the focus of World Prematurity Day, on Nov. 17.

In an editorial accompanying the study, two experts agreed that more research is needed to find more effective ways to reduce the number of premature births.

"Until considerable strides have been made in our understanding of how, why and when preterm births occur, and the effects that this has on both mother and baby, preterm births will remain a major public health problem, from which no country in the world is immune," Jane Norman and Andrew Shennan, of Tommy's Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about preterm labor and birth.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Nov. 15, 2012

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