A new mom practices kangaroo mother care with her preemie at Project Concern International’s Casa Materna in Guatemala. Photo by: PCI

When you ask most Americans what the number one cause of death among children under 5 is worldwide, premature birth isn’t at the top of the list. Yet this year, 15 million babies will be born too soon throughout the world and over 1 million of these babies won’t survive — in fact, most won’t live past the first four weeks of life.

A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy has simply not had enough time to develop the strong organs and immune system needed to thrive. Those who do survive an early birth face health complications that can last a lifetime.  

Premature babies in low-income countries are over 10 times more likely to die than those in high-income countries.

The good news is that 75 percent of these deaths are preventable through basic newborn care such as warmth, breastfeeding support and care for breathing difficulties — and bold action is now being taken to ensure every “preemie” has a chance at life.

Today is World Prematurity Day and thousands of people across the globe are joining together to raise awareness about premature birth and to talk about what we can do to turn the tide on this tragic loss of life.

Project Concern International is embarking on a five year, United States Agency for International Development-funded program, called Every Preemie — SCALE, to tackle the issue of premature birth in 24 target countries in Asia and Africa.  

So we know the battlefield, and that’s where we need to focus on improving access to quality care — sharing best practices and encouraging quality research.

In partnership with the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth and the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the Every Preemie — SCALE program will promote and support practical solutions to save the lives of these vulnerable babies. Addressing this problem is an issue of awareness, research, and funding. Saving babies who are born early should be a top agenda item for global and national decision makers.

The program will work with global and national partners to ensure attention to premature birth is prioritized and that health workers have the skills and resources needed to save these young lives.

While we know what works to save premature babies, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The program will therefore work closely with country partners to identify their needs and support interventions that link communities and health facilities to improve the care of premature babies and their chances for survival. Communities know the type of care that works best for them and the program will partner with them to ensure ownership for solutions and their success.

A premature baby dies every 30 seconds, but this doesn’t have to be the case. On this World Prematurity Day, let’s commit to raising awareness and spurring action to end this epidemic and

ensure millions of premature babies have a healthy start to their lives.  

Want to learn more? Check out the Healthy Means campaign site and tweet us using #HealthyMeans.

Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Judith Robb-McCord

    Judith Robb-McCord is the director of PCI’s Every Preemie — SCALE program funded through USAID. Judith has twenty years of international public health experience with a focus on maternal, newborn and child health. She worked with USAID in Kenya, Eritrea, Côte d'Ivoire and Ethiopia. Judith was the director of Jhpiego's Maternal & Neonatal Health Program​; and was the regional director of PATH's Malaria Control and Evaluation Program in Africa. Learn more about PCI at www.PCIGlobal.org.