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Global call to tackle stillbirths

Thursday April 14th, 2011

Millions of babies are born dead worldwide every year because simple health measures are not in place, experts said today.

A major global study of stillbirths shows some 2.6 million babies are lost at birth every year.

Researchers said wealthy countries have made no progress in dealing with the problem in the last ten years.

And in poorer countries massive differences could be made by simple measures, according to the study published in The Lancet.

Globally the number of deaths has fallen by just 15 per cent in 15 years - reflecting improved care in countries such as India and China. Little progress has been made in Africa and Oceania.

In the wealthiest countries about three out of every thousand babies are lost to stillbirth - with the rates fallen to two in a thousand in Finland, Singapore, Denmark and Norway. In Britain the rate is 3.5 per 1,000.

The World Health Organisation said measures such as emergency obstetric care, malaria prevention and women getting folic acid at the time of conception could save thousands of babies.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, of WHO, said: "Many stillbirths are invisible because they go unrecorded, and are not seen as a major public health problem. Yet, it is a heartbreaking loss for women and families.

"We need to acknowledge these losses and do everything we can to prevent them. Stillbirths need to be part of the maternal, newborn and child health agenda."

Midwife Dr Carole Presern, who directs the partnership for maternal, newborn and child health, said: "If every woman had access to a skilled birth attendant - a midwife, and if necessary a physician - for both essential care and for procedures such as emergency caesarean sections, we would see a dramatic decrease in the number of stillbirths."

In Britain Frances Day-Stirk, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "Although 98 per cent of stillbirths occur in low or middle income countries, it remains a concern for high income countries, including the UK.

"Most evident is the correlation with socioeconomic disadvantage and ethnicity as common denominators (for stillbirth) irrespective of a country's income."

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said rates of stillbirth in the UK have fallen in line with the global reduction during the last 15 years.

It said maternal obesity was now a key factor in stillbirth - linked to ten per cent of losses.

President Dr Tony Falconer said: "The rise in obesity is a serious issue and women need to be encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle before conception to ensure the best outcome for them and their baby.

"The other known associated factors for stillbirths include increasing maternal age, ethnicity, congenital anomalies and placental conditions, however, a significant number are unexplained."

Writing in the journal, Janet Scott of Sands, a British stillbirth charity, says stillbirth is a "taboo".

She writes: "To anyone who has not had personal experience of a stillbirth, it can be all too easy to underestimate the impact and the significance.

"But if we undervalue the damage that follows a stillbirth, we leave bereaved families to grieve in isolation and silence, and the problem remains ignored."

The Lancet April 14 2011

Tags: Africa | Asia | Australia | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Europe | UK News | World Health | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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