AsianScientist (Apr. 14, 2011) – New global and country figures published by The Lancet medical journal estimate some 2.6 million stillbirths occurred worldwide in 2009.
Every day more than 7,200 babies are stillborn − and 98 percent of them occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The five main causes of stillbirth are childbirth complications, maternal infections in pregnancy, maternal disorders (especially hypertension and diabetes), fetal growth restriction and congenital abnormalities.
When and where do stillbirths occur?
Almost half of all stillbirths (1.2 million) happen when the woman is in labor. These deaths are directly related to the lack of skilled care at this critical time for mothers and babies.
Two-thirds happen in rural areas, where skilled birth attendants − in particular midwives and physicians − are not always available for essential care during childbirth and for obstetric emergencies, including cesarean sections.
The stillbirth rate varies sharply by country, from the lowest rates of 2 per 1,000 births in Finland and Singapore, to highs of 47 in Pakistan and 36 in Bangladesh.
Rates also vary widely within countries. In India, for example, rates range from 20 to 66 per 1,000 births in different states.
It is estimated that 66 percent, or 1.8 million stillbirths, occur in just 10 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the United Republic of Tanzania.
While the least progress has been seen in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, Asian countries such as Bangladesh, China, and India have made progress, with a combined estimate of 400,000 fewer stillbirths in 2009 than in 1995.
What can be done?
The Lancet Stillbirth Series, written by 69 authors from more than 50 organizations in 18 countries, shows that the way to address the problem of stillbirth is to strengthen existing maternal, newborn, and child health programs by focusing on key interventions.
Despite the large numbers, stillbirths have not been included in the Millennium Development Goals for improving maternal health and reducing child mortality.
The UN is committed to tackle this issue. In September 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, aimed at saving 16 million women and children over the next five years. In the framework of the Strategy, numerous countries have committed to improving access to family planning, antenatal care and skilled birth attendants, which should lead to reductions in stillbirths.
In September this year, a special session on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) will be held at the UN General Assembly. NCDs such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) are risk factors for stillbirth.
Source: World Health Organization.
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