Behind Every Statistic is a Story

In college I lived with four girls in an apartment. I was known for running into the living room hallway to tell my stories. It was my little spotlight.

We’ve since grown up and moved away from our little starter apartment. But I’m still telling stories. And today I’m using this blog as my spotlight.

To share the statistics.

Because we are the story behind them.

Yesterday the World Health Organization issued “Born too Soon: The Global Action Report On Preterm Birth.”


As a refresher, preterm birth is defined by WHO as all births before 37 completed weeks of gestation Preemies are then further sub-divided based on gestational age: extremely preterm (<28 weeks), very preterm (28 – <32 weeks) and moderate preterm (32 – <37 completed weeks of gestation) Moderate preterm birth may be additionally segmented to focus on late preterm birth (34 – <37 completed weeks).

15 million babies are born too soon every year. Preterm birth rates are increasing in almost all countries with reliable data.

More than 1 in 10 babies (worldwide) are born preterm, affecting families all around the world.

Of the 1.2 million preterm births in 2010, estimated to occur in high-income regions, more than 0.5 million (42%) occur in the United States. It is worth noting that 15 countries account for two-thirds of the world’s preterm births. The U.S. is No. 6.

  1. India
  2. China
  3. Nigeria
  4. Pakistan
  5. Indonesia
  6. United States of America
  7. Bangladesh
  8. Philippines
  9. Dem. Rep. of Congo
  10. Brazil
  11. Ethiopia
  12. United Republic of Tanzania
  13. Uganda
  14. Sudan
  15. Kenya

Over 1 million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth. Many survivors face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems. Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn deaths and now the second leading cause of death after pneumonia in children under the age of 5.

An important risk factor is uterine over distension with a multiples pregnancy. Twins, triplets, and higher order multiples carry nearly 10 times the risk of preterm birth compared to singleton births.

Preterm birth is both more common in boys, with around 55% of all preterm births occurring in males, and is associated with a higher risk of dying when compared to girls born at a similar gestation. For a given gestational age, babies of black African ancestry have less respiratory distress, lower neonatal mortality and are less likely to require special care than Caucasian babies. (Wimpy white boy syndrome in scientific terms.)

Intensive care is necessary to save virtually all babies born before 28 weeks gestation. However, these children are the minority – accounting for about 5% of preemies.

Inequalities in survival rates around the world are stark: half of the babies born at 24 weeks (4 months early) survive in high-income countries, but in low income settings, half the babies born at 32 weeks (two months early) continue to die due to a lack of feasible, cost-effective care, such as warmth, breastfeeding support, and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties.

Over the last decade, some countries have halved deaths due to preterm birth by ensuring frontline workers are skilled in the care of premature babies and improving supplies of life-saving commodities and equipment.


The muppets will continue to grow up. And in time I’m sure they’ll find their own spotlights. But I will forever fight for the tiny ones. Because little lives depends on it.

Download the full report here.

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Filed under Current Events, Prematurity

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