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Premature birth is highest cause of infant deaths globally

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Complications relating to premature birth account for over one million deaths in under-fives worldwide each year, a study published in The Lancet has found.

Global, regional, and national causes of child mortality in 2000 – 13, revealed that preterm birth complications accounted for approximately 1.537million child deaths, roughly 15.4 per cent of the 6.3million recorded globally in 2013. Pneumonia and intrapartum complications were the second and third biggest killers, with 1.057 million and 1.054 million respectively. Collectively, neonatal deaths constituted 44 per cent of deaths in children under five years old.

Most of these deaths occur in developing nations, with the highest rates seen in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China. Between them, 52.5 per cent of neonatal deaths occurred in these countries. The authors of the study commented that around two-thirds of the deaths could be prevented without the use of intensive care.

The report also shows that the death rate has dropped from 76 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 46 in 2013. This is despite the number of live births rising from 120.7 million to 137.7 between 2000 and 2013. The report suggests that the drop is due to progress in protecting children from diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

Jacque Gerrard, international lead at the RCM, said: 'There are not enough trained midwives or skilled birth attendants at a global level and governments need to recognise that the returns on investing in midwives saves lives. Additionally something as simple as midwives promoting 'skin to skin contact' at birth and on-going 'Kangaroo care' which keeps infants warm and supports emotional attachment and breastfeeding, will impact on the reduction of infant mortality across the world. Deaths linked to premature births are also an issue for the UK and more needs to be done here to reduce infant mortality. Though it is low it can and should be better. It is vital that we learn the lessons from each of these tragic losses and ensure that what we learn is shared. Actions then need to be implemented across the whole country.'

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