The tiny translucent fingers of a premature baby are stark reminders of the fragility of newborn life no matter where in the world a baby is born. When I asked a friend who works for the March of Dimes exactly what it was that the organization did I was struck that I knew so little about it. While I had traveled in the past few years on maternal and newborn health reporting trips to Ethiopia and South Africa, and written for a number of global non-profits on related issues, I was unaware that the March of Dimes was fighting for Newborn lives right here in the US.
As a mother of four and the daughter of a Polio survivor I am an active advocate for global vaccines with the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign where one of our major goals is global Polio eradication. The March of Dimes was Founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to eradicate Polio in the US, I was fascinated to find out that the March of Dimes had led the fight against Polio eradication, and although it still exists in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was successfully eradicated in the US in 1979. Thanks in large part to the March of Dimes campaign.
The robust infrastructure of the March of Dimes was then shifted to tackle birth defects, and in the mid 1980s shifted to Community, Advocacy, Research, Education and Support services around premature birth. (the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Premature babies can have serious health problems at birth and that last later into life, and about 1 in 10 babies in the US are born prematurely.
According to the March of Dimes Global Action Report on Preterm Birth; Born Too Soon :
15 million babies in the world are born prematurely each year, and that number is rising.
Preterm birth is the greatest cause of neonatal death, in the first 28 days of life.
It is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 years old.
60% of preterm births occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
75% of the deaths of premature babies could be prevented with proper medical care
Here in the US the preterm birth rate is at 9.6% , while across 184 countries of the world the statistics range from 5 to 18% for preterm birth rates per 100 live births. That means that here in the US, I was shocked to learn, we only get a report card grade of a C. You can find out where your country ranks on the Born Too Soon Global Map as well.
There is a lot of research going on to find out what factors cause preterm birth, because even healthy mothers who have done everything right during pregnancy can experience it. The risk factors that are associated with it include mothers of multiples, or who have previously had a preterm birth. Getting little or no prenatal care, being overweight or underweight during pregnancy, smoking, drinking alcohol, and drug use are all known to contribute. But there are demographics as well, if you are under 17 or over 35 these are risk factors, and here in the US researchers are working hard to find out why race also seems to play a part in the statistics.
Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait® is a comprehensive initiative by the March of Dimes to prevent preventable preterm birth, with a focus on reducing elective deliveries before 39 weeks gestation. Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait involves an education and awareness campaign, hospital quality improvement and community intervention programs. These strategies are focused on interventions and activities that have the potential to make an immediate, substantial and measurable impact on preterm birth. – www.marchofdimes.org
My friend Michelle invited me for a tour of the NICU at Women & Infants Hospital to see the work being done there by the March of Dimes. There was a stark differences between the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that I had visited in Ethiopia at the Black Lion Hospital on my International Reporting Project Fellowship and the one we toured here in Rhode Island. I could see it had a lot to do with the presence of the March of Dimes. On the sterile 6 year old 50,000 sq. foot wing here in Rhode Island 82 babies can receive care. In the corner of the floor an entire center for family support provides programs, food, and a fun filled space for siblings to play. The support given in the hospital space seems an extension of the March of Dimes website where it encourages community support through the Share your story feature .
On my tour I could not help but think of the mothers I had seen across the world in Ethiopia in the largest NICU in the country with only three incubators and one nurse for every 10 babies. The mothers folded over their teeny babies with the same concerned and protective stance as the ones I saw here in Rhode Island, but with the difference of a world of support from the March of Dimes programs at hand. I was happy to learn that over the past 15 years the March of Dimes Global Programs have formed alliances with partners on the ground to help improve birth outcomes in developing countries around the world as well. All mothers love their babies with the same fierce intensity no matter where they live, and all babies deserve the chance to survive no matter where in the world they are born. I was impressed to learn about all that the March of Dimes programs do to see that happen.
This is an original post written by Elizabeth Atalay of Documama for World Moms Blog.