March of Dimes Plan Aims to Make United States a Leader in Preterm Birth Prevention

November 17, 2015

The United States premature birth rate has declined over the past eight years, but not for all. Many communities, as well as specific racial and ethnic groups, continue to suffer from the tragic and costly consequences of double-digit rates of premature birth. The March of Dimes today unveiled a plan to focus more attention and resources on these “high population and/or high-burden” areas with the goal of reducing the nation’s preterm birth rate to 5.5 percent by 2030.

The March of Dimes developed a multi-year plan to attack the problem of preterm birth in communities with the greatest burden, former US Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, MD, announced today. Dr. Benjamin, a member of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees, made the announcement to mark the 5th annual World Prematurity Day, which highlights the fact that premature birth is a serious problem worldwide.

“As a family doctor, I’ve seen the terrible impact of premature birth,” said Dr. Benjamin, who operates a rural health clinic in Alabama. “It can cause life-long disabilities, and it is the number one killer of babies. This March of Dimes detailed plan to understand and prevent preterm birth is critical, and when we succeed, it will spare an estimated 1.3 million fewer babies the health consequences of a premature birth and could potentially save about $70 billion in health and societal costs.”

The goal of reducing the nation’s preterm birth rate to 5.5 percent by 2030 has been endorsed by the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign partners. In addition to the March of Dimes, members include: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG); the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP); the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO); the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN); and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

Dr. Benjamin presented the March of Dimes “Prematurity Campaign Roadmap” at the March of Dimes Prematurity Prevention Conference in Arlington, VA, which brought together public health officials, doctors, nurses and other stakeholders to discuss the latest interventions and quality improvement programs. The plan’s goal is to lower the national preterm birth rate to 5.5 percent by 2030, closing the geographic and racial gaps identified in the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card issued earlier this month. The Prematurity Campaign Roadmap outlines specific interventions health care providers and officials can take to prevent preterm birth.

The United States’ preterm birth rate was 9.6 percent in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics and ranks among the worst of high-resource countries, the March of Dimes says. Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm, and nearly one million die due to complications of an early birth. Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays.

The first phase of the March of Dimes plan will focus on six states or US territories with the highest rates of preterm birth, and include Puerto Rico, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, which have rates above 11.5 percent. Phase I also includes Florida and Texas, which have large numbers of preterm babies, each with a rate of about 10 percent.

Phase II of the plan calls for bringing attention to an additional 10 states with more than 100,000 births each year, including California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The March of Dimes leads the World Prematurity Network, (WPN), a global coalition of consumer and parent groups working together to raise awareness and prevent premature birth in their countries. Through World Prematurity Day and other joint efforts, members call for action to prevent preterm birth and improve care for babies born too soon. Nearly 100 countries participated in World Prematurity Day 2014 with building and landmark lightings, outdoor events, petitions, and other demonstrations of support.