New research has suggested that offering simple and cost-effective healthcare measures to pregnant women could prevent over a million babies from being stillborn or dying as newborns in developing countries each year.
An international team of researchers has also revealed that a quarter of the world’s babies are either born premature or underweight, with little progress being made in this area.
In response, the researchers have called on governments and organizations to improve the care women and babies receive during pregnancy and birth in 81 low- and middle-income countries.
The researchers have identified eight proven and easily implementable measures that could prevent over 565,000 stillbirths in these countries. These measures include providing micronutrient, protein, and energy supplements, low-dose aspirin, the hormone progesterone, education on the harms of smoking, and treatments for malaria, syphilis, and bacteria in urine.
The study estimates that making steroids available to pregnant women and avoiding immediately clamping the umbilical cord could also prevent the deaths of over 475,000 newborn babies. The cost of implementing these changes is estimated at $1.1 billion, which the researchers argue is only a fraction of what other health programs receive.
One of the lead study authors, Per Ashorn, a professor at Finland’s Tampere University, highlights that these changes are “a fraction of what other health programs receive.” The researchers have used a new definition for babies born premature or underweight, moving away from the traditional benchmark set by a Finnish doctor in 1919.
Joy Lawn, another study author from the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explains that the researchers analyzed a database of 160 million live births from 2000 to 2020. They found that 35.3 million of these babies, or one in four, were either premature or too small, classifying them under the new term “small vulnerable newborns.”
While most of the babies were born in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, every country is affected.
Lawn highlights that a key reason progress has stagnated in this area is that these problems tend to affect families and women with less of a voice, such as pregnant African-American women in the United States who receive lower levels of care than other groups.
The researchers have emphasized the need for governments and organizations to prioritize and implement these cost-effective measures to improve maternal and infant health outcomes.