This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Pre-Term Births Are a Global Priority

A few days ago, I mentioned the news from the US Centers for Disease Control that the high infant death rate in Mississippi and other southern states was due especially to an above average rate of pre-term births. It turns out that today was "World Prematurity Day" at USAID, supporting an effort by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of this issue, which speaks directly to Millennium Development Goal 5 relating to the improvement in child health. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the regions of the world with the highest rates of prematurity are Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.
Over 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia (Figure 1). The 10 countries with the highest numbers include Brazil, the United States, India and Nigeria, demonstrating that preterm birth is truly a global problem. Of the 11 coun- tries with preterm birth rates of over 15%, all but two are in sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 2). In the poorest countries, on average, 12% of babies are born too soon compared with 9% in higher-income countries. Within countries, poorer families are at higher risk.
This, of course, is the problem. There is not a single set of biological causes of prematurity, so there isn't an easy fix. The basic solution is to improve the lives of pregnant women, making sure that risks are identified and monitored. Healthy, empowered women, who are neither too young nor too old when they get pregnant will be at the lowest risk of prematurity, so moving a greater fraction of women into those categories is the solution, but it is a societal-wide fix, not simply an individual-level treatment regime. Perhaps the only good news out of this is that the infant mortality rates have gone down so much over the years everywhere that we are now able to concentrate on the really hardest issues.

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