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Premature births on rise globally (US ranks with Indonesia & Bangladesh)

A new report by the World Health Organization has determined that one of every ten babies, 15 million worldwide, is born premature and the numbers are rising.

Disturbingly, if not surprisingly anymore when it comes to health indicators, the United States ranks between Indonesia and Bangladesh on premies.

As the Guardian noted, most of these premature births around the world are preventable if simple, inexpensive treatments were available to all. The rise in premie babies in the rich world was attributed to older mothers, an increased rate of C-section deliveries as well as the use of fertility drugs. In the developing world, comparatively:

In poor countries, where most of the deaths occur, the main causes of premature delivery are infections, malaria, HIV and the high number of adolescent girls getting pregnant. There is a huge difference in survival among the most premature. In rich countries, 90% of babies born before 28 weeks live. In poor countries, only 10% will do so.

Flickr, Mike Blyth

The New York Times, covering the same report, emphasized how poorly the U.S. ranks when it comes to premature birth rates:

Fifteen million babies are born prematurely each year, and the United States fared badly in the first country-by-country global comparison of premature births, which was released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and other agencies.

The BBC also reported on the WHO report, noting up high that one million infants die every year from complications due to premature birth:

Experts at the UN say simple and inexpensive care, like antiseptic cream to prevent cord infection, one-dollar steroid injections given to mothers to help foetal lung development, and antibiotics to fight infection, can help keep premature babies alive. They also advocate the use of kangaroo care – where the baby is tied, skin to skin, on the mothers’ front – which reduces infection, keeps the baby warm and makes it easy to breastfeed. This has been proven to dramatically reduce newborn death.

Top 10 Worst Countries for premature births:

  • India
  • China
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Indonesia
  • US
  • Bangladesh
  • Philippines
  • DR Congo
  • Brazil

The March of Dimes has produced an interactive map based on the data (Go to link. Below is a screen grab):

March of Dimes



About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.