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Simple, Low-Cost Ways to Cut the Risk of an Early Birth

Second of two reports on the world's leading killer of newborn babies. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

We talked last week about a new report on preterm births -- the leading cause of death in newborn babies worldwide. Each year an estimated thirteen million babies are born too soon. More than one million of them die as a result of their prematurity. Yet experts say many early births can be prevented.

The report came from the March of Dimes and the World Health Organization. Christopher Howson is the vice president for global programs at the March of Dimes, a nonprofit group. He says there are a number of simple, low-cost interventions that can improve the chances of a full-term birth.

CHRISTOPHER HOWSON: "We should treat malnutrition in women both before and during pregnancy. We should treat infections that increase risk. We should monitor pregnancies carefully for signs of trouble. And should that baby be born preterm, we should care for that baby by providing a package of interventions that have been shown to be tried and true and very effective."

For example, there are programs in Africa that teach the skin-to-skin method, also known as kangaroo care. Mothers learn to carry preterm babies in front instead the traditional African way of carrying a baby, on the mother's back. Skin-to-skin helps keep a preterm baby warm. The direct contact also makes it easier for the baby to breastfeed.

Most preterm births take place in Africa and Asia. But rates in the United States have increased by more than one-third in the last twenty-five years. This is largely the result of more births in older women and more use of fertility treatments.

Alan Fleischman is the medical director of the March of Dimes. He was among a group of medical experts who met in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The group met to develop a quality improvement plan for dealing with the problem in the United States. Doctor Fleischman says there is concern especially about rising numbers of what are known as late preterm births.

ALAN FLEISCHMAN: "Those are the babies who are born between thirty-four and thirty-seven weeks gestation. Those are the fastest increasing numbers of prematures. In fact, they are responsible for seventy-two percent of all prematures in America."

The rise of these births may be linked to increased use of drugs to start or speed up labor and more births by Cesarean section. Doctor Fleischman says the group strongly advises against these interventions before thirty-nine weeks unless medically necessary.

The experts also say doctors need to work with pregnant women to do a better job of estimating exactly when a pregnancy began.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.