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WHO Report on Preterm Births

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May 15, 2023

Why in news?

World Health Organization (WHO) has released the “Born Too Soon: Decade of Action on Preterm Birth” report highlighting the urgent need to address the preterm births.

What is preterm birth?

  • Preterm babies - Babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.
  • Subcategories of preterm births
    • Extremely preterm - less than 28 weeks
    • Very preterm - 28 to less than 32 weeks
    • Moderate to late preterm - 32 to 37 weeks
  • Reasons for preterm births
    • Spontaneously
    • Medical reasons – Infection, chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, pregnancy complications that require early induction of labour or caesarean birth
    • Other reasons - Multiple pregnancies
    • There could also be a genetic influence

Preterm birth is the 4th leading cause of loss of human capital worldwide, at all ages.

What are the key findings of the report?

  • Preterm birth – It is the single largest killer of children under five years of age.
  • Worldwide, 1 in 10 babies is born preterm (<37 weeks gestation).
  • The global preterm birth rate was 9.9% in 2020, compared to 9.8% in 2010.
  • Neonatal disorders- They are the leading cause of burden of disease.
  • Inequalities - 9 in 10 extremely preterm babies survive in high-income countries but less than 1 in 10 survive in low-income countries.
  • Regional disparity - Preterm birth rates vary between regions, the highest occurring in Southern Asia (13.2%) and sub-Saharan Africa (10.1%).
  • In 2020, Bangladesh had the highest estimated preterm birth rate (16.2%), while India ranks first in terms of preterm birth numbers.
  • Threat for vulnerable women and babies - The “4 Cs” – Conflict, Climate change, COVID-19 and the Cost-of-living crisis.
  • Covid19 pandemic - Maternal Covid-19 infection may directly affect the foetus through pathways of viral transmission from mother to baby.


What are the impacts of the preterm births?

  • Child mortality - It is the leading cause of child mortality worldwide, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 deaths of children under five years of age.
  • Loss of human capital - Preterm birth is the 4th leading cause of loss of human capital worldwide, at all ages, behind ischemic heart disease, pneumonia and diarrheal disease.
  • Health concern - Preterm birth damages respiratory and cardiac systems in long term for many survivors.
  • Neurodevelopmental problems - Babies born between 37 and 39.9 weeks are at a slightly higher risk of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes.
  • Learning and behavioral disorders - Even a few weeks preterm can cause learning and behavioral disorders.
  • Adult survivors - Adult survivors of preterm births face increased risks of chronic disorders, including psychiatric and cardiovascular disorders.

SDG Target 3.2 aims to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age by 2030

What is the way forward?

  • The quality care of the babies should be ensured to improve child health and reduce the preterm births.
  • Every women should have access to quality health care.
  • WHO’s antenatal care guidelines should to made aware to everyone.



  1. The Hindu│Key Findings Of The Report
  2. The Wire│Way Forward For Preterm Births
  3. WHO│About Preterm Births
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