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New Report Shows 15 Million Babies Born Too Soon Every Year; Calls for Increased Research into Prevention

Prematurity now the second-leading cause of death worldwide in children under age 5

The first-ever national, regional, and global estimates of preterm birth reveals that 15 million babies are born too soon every year and 1.1 million of those babies die shortly after birth, making premature birth the second-leading cause of death in children under age 5.

The alarming statistics in the new report

Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, highlight the need for more research into the causes of preterm birth and how to prevent it. According to the report, more than one in every 10 babies is born prematurely and preterm birth rates are increasing in almost all countries with reliable data. Survivors of premature birth often face a lifetime of disability, including serious infections, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and respiratory, vision, hearing, learning, and developmental problems.

Born Too Soon is a joint effort of almost 50 organizations, including the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children’s.

“Even if every known intervention was implemented around the world, we would still see 13.8 million preterm births each year; we could only prevent 8 percent,” said Craig Rubens, MD, PhD, executive director of GAPPS and contributor to the report. “This report sounds the alarm that prematurity is an enormous global health problem that urgently demands more research and resources.”

New figures in the report show both the magnitude of the problem and the disparities between countries. Of the 11 countries with preterm birth rates over 15 percent, all but two are in sub-Saharan Africa. Preterm births account for 11.1 percent of the world's live births, 60 percent of them 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.

However, the problem of preterm births is not confined to low-income countries. The United States and Brazil both rank among the top 10 countries with the highest number of preterm births. In the United States, about 12 percent, or more than one in nine births, are preterm.

“Treating premature infants is like trying to stop a snowball once it’s 99 percent of the way down the mountain and has become an avalanche,” Rubens said. “The emphasis needs to be on prevention strategies that work everywhere, especially in low-resource, high-burden settings.”

GAPPS is committed to leading global research efforts to discover the causes and mechanisms of preterm birth and stillbirth. Research leadership includes stewarding the Preventing Preterm Birth initiative, a Grand Challenge in Global Health from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; operating the GAPPS Repository of maternal and newborn samples and data for research of pregnancy and newborn health; and guidance on research harmonization.

Preterm birth is defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. More information on Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth is available at

Countries with the greatest numbers of preterm births

1. India - 3,519,100
2. China - 1,172,300
3. Nigeria - 773,600
4. Pakistan - 748,100
5. Indonesia - 675,700
6. United States - 517,400
7. Bangladesh - 424,100
8. Philippines - 348,900
9. Democratic Republic of the Congo - 341,400
10. Brazil - 279,300
Countries with the highest rates of preterm births for every 100 births
1. Malawi-18.1
2. Comoros and Congo-16.7
4. Zimbabwe-16.6
5. Equatorial Guinea-16.5
6. Mozambique-16.4
7. Gabon-16.3
8. Pakistan-15.8
9. Indonesia-15.5
54.United States-12.0
Additional Information
For more about Born Too Soon:
Interactive map of preterm births:
Every Woman Every Child commitments to preterm birth:
Additional materials, resources, videos:

Link to Born Too Soon b-roll and shot list:


The Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children's, leads a collaborative, global effort to increase awareness and accelerate innovative research and interventions that will improve maternal, newborn and child health outcomes around the world.

About Seattle Children's Hospital

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Children’s has been delivering superior patient care and advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Casey Calamusa | EurekAlert!
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