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Global programs

  • Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely and close to 8 million are born with birth defects every year.
  • Worldwide annual death toll due to preterm birth and birth defects is over 4 million.
  • Working with local and global partners, we can make a difference.
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March of Dimes global report on birth defects

Every year an estimated 8 million children--6 percent of total births worldwide--are born with a serious birth defect of genetic or partially genetic origin. Additionally, hundreds of thousands more are born with serious birth defects of post-conception origin due to maternal exposure to environmental agents. At least 3.3 million children less than 5 years of age die annually because of serious birth defects and the majority of those who survive may be mentally and physically disabled for life.

This report from the March of Dimes is the first to provide a global estimate of serious birth defects of genetic or partly genetic origin. It details the birth prevalence rates and the numbers of affected births in 193 countries.The report recommends steps that can be taken to prevent birth defects and improve the care of those affected in developing countries. Experience from high-income countries shows that overall mortality and disability from birth defects could be reduced by up to 70 percent if the recommendations in this report are broadly implemented.

Download an electronic copy of The March of Dimes Global Report on Birth Defects: The Hidden Toll of Dying and Disabled Children:

See also: March of Dimes paper on preterm birth

Frequently Asked Questions

How does March of Dimes Global Programs carry out its activities?

March of Dimes Global Programs conducts its work through “mission alliances” with non-governmental partners in target countries. We offer our partners technical expertise and the extensive resources of the March of Dimes, including professional and public health education materials and tools for establishing data collection systems, public awareness campaigns and programs for education of health professionals. We conduct interventions in middle-and low- income countries to strengthen prevention of preterm birth and birth defects and reduce infant mortality. We do this in partnership with a wide variety of organizations, including the World Health Organization and other international health agencies, academic medical centers, non-governmental organizations, parent/patient organizations and other stakeholders.

How severe is the global problem of birth defects and preterm birth?

Every year, nearly 23 million babies worldwide are born prematurely or with a serious birth defect of genetic origin. Over 4 million of these babies die before their 5th birthday and, for those who survive, many face life-long disability. While birth defects and preterm birth affect all countries, the toll is particularly high in developing countries.  For more information, see our reports on global toll of prematurity and birth defects.

Where does March of Dimes Global Programs work?

Since its establishment in 1998, March of Dimes Global Programs has conducted partnership projects in 33 countries across Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, South-eastern Europe, Asia and the Western Pacific region. Our current programs are in China, Lebanon and the Philippines.

2014 Premature birth report card

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