Preterm birth rates highest in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, research says

By Julie Griffiths on 23 November 2018 Research Premature Birth Child Mortality

A new paper estimates that nearly 11% of all live births were preterm in 2014, with 81% of them occurring in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The paper published in The Lancet Global Health says that it amounted to 14.8million infants who were born preterm.

Approximately 15% of preterm newborns were born before 32 weeks’ gestation and required special inpatient care. 

In 26 of the 38 countries with adequate quality data, rates of preterm birth were rising, although, as the authors note, gaps in data quality and comparability mean that caution is needed in interpreting these trends.

WHO has committed to update estimates of preterm birth every three to five years. It is the leading cause of under-five child mortality, and an important cause of serious morbidity.

The paper provides the third global estimates of preterm birth. The analysis draws on a larger database than previous estimates (more than 1241 inputs from 107 countries), perhaps because of the increasing visibility and motivation to improve data.

A more complex Bayesian approach to the modelling was used, which could help to improve stability of the estimates and is the method used in other recent global estimates by WHO. Previous estimates suggested similar results at a global and regional level in 2000 and 2010.

However, although global and regional estimates remain similar, some country estimates are very different, possibly related to the different modelling approach.

Data gaps, in both quantity and quality, especially from low-income settings, remain an important limitation – 90% of the available data points in the modelling dataset were from high-income or upper-middle-income countries. These account for less than 5% of the world's births. No data were available from 40% of the 196 UN member states.

More needs to be done to close the gap, the paper says.