Until recently, premature birth and birth defects, which affect 23 million babies worldwide, were not recognized as significant public health priorities by international health agencies, governments or donor organizations. Lack of evidence on the global, regional and country toll, misperceptions about causes of newborn deaths, and limited public awareness led to the inattention to these problems.
The March of Dimes has worked hard to change this. In 1998, the March of Dimes established its Global Programs to bring the high global toll of birth defects and preterm birth to the attention of governments, policy makers and donor organizations and to offer solutions in response. In the past 15 years, Global Programs has partnered with local organizations in 33 developing countries on four continents to strengthen prevention and care through development of surveillance systems, education of health professionals, raising public awareness and strengthening parent/patient and other grass-roots organizations.
Global Programs conducts its work through mission alliances-organizations that share the March of Dimes mission to improve birth outcomes, in a targeted country or region. Within the partnership, the complementary strengths of the March of Dimes and the partner organization are mobilized to carry out surveillance and health in a country or region of the world in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Each partnership becomes an integral component of March of Dimes Global Programs activities.
The ideal partner for a mission alliance is an organization that: (1) has an established presence in the target country, including legal status and a local infrastructure; (2) shares our mission to improve the health of babies; and, (3) demonstrates financial health and stability. Programs are designed to reach goals consistent with the mission of the March of Dimes and its partner organizations through development of flexible, yet focused initiatives with measurable outcomes.
One example of our partnerships is the Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (GNMIH), a collaboration of March of Dimes Global Programs with three of our strongest partners sited in Peking University, (China), the American University of Beirut, (Lebanon) and the Institute of Human Genetics of the National Institutes of Health, (Philippines). The main aim of the GNMIH is to foster the sharing of expertise, resources, knowledge and experience in research and project implementation strategies across partner sites. Current cross-cutting activities include surveillance of birth defects and preterm births, education of primary care providers on diagnosis and appropriate referral; and community health education, especially targeting girls and young women. The GNMIH is also developing a global volunteer youth network of students and young professionals to assist its community health education projects.
Recognizing the need for data to highlight the importance of global toll of birth defects and preterm birth, Global Programs led efforts to publish the March of Dimes Global Report on Birth Defects (2006) and Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth (2012). These landmark reports presented first-ever country level data to inform researchers, policy makers and funders about the need for action to prevent birth defects and preterm birth and to reduce death and disability associated with these conditions. Furthermore, the March of Dimes has conducted and contributed to numerous international conferences and strategic meetings to foster networks among developing and developed country experts and to promote policy, programs and best practices address the issues related to preterm births and birth defects.