Providing simple and affordable healthcare measures during pregnancy could prevent over a million newborns from dying in developing countries every year, according to new research.
An international team of researchers called on governments and organizations to increase care for women and babies during pregnancy and birth in 81 low- and middle-income countries.
The research revealed that one quarter of the world's babies are born underweight or premature, with little progress being made in this area. Eight easily implementable measures could prevent more than 565,000 stillbirths in these countries, including providing supplements and education on the harms of smoking.
In addition, making steroids available to pregnant women and not immediately clamping the umbilical cord could prevent over 475,000 newborn deaths. The cost of implementing these changes is estimated at $1.1 billion, a fraction of what other health programs receive.
"Shockingly," the researchers used a new definition for babies born premature or underweight, stating that the traditional benchmark has been in place for over a century. The researchers analyzed a database of 160 million live births from 2000 to 2020, estimating that 35.3 million of the babies born worldwide in 2020 were "small vulnerable newborns."
While most were born in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, every country is affected. One reason for a lack of progress in this area is that it typically affects women and families with less of a voice. For example, pregnant African-American women in the United States received a lower level of care than other groups.
The lead study author, Per Ashorn, stated that the measures would have a significant impact at a relatively low cost. Joy Lawn of the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, another study author, added that the researchers' findings showed how common these issues are and that they are not all the same.
The researchers emphasized the importance of ramping up care for pregnant women and babies to prevent avoidable deaths, and the need for governments and organizations to prioritize this issue.
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