India had world’s highest number of preterm births in 2020: Study

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India recorded 3.02 million preterm births in 2020 — the highest worldwide — accounting for over 20 per cent of all preterm births globally, according to a study published in the The Lancet journal.

The research by authors from the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, showed that over 50 per cent of all preterm births in 2020 occurred in just eight countries.

India was followed by Pakistan, Nigeria, China, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the US, the researchers said.

The high numbers of preterm births in these countries and areas are, in part, a reflection of their large population sizes, high numbers of total births, and weaker health systems that are unable to deliver high-quality family planning, antenatal care, and childbirth services to all individuals who need them, they said.

Globally, an estimated 13.4 million babies were born early in 2020, with nearly one million dying from preterm complications, the authors said. The data is equivalent to around 1 in 10 babies born early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy worldwide, they said.

“Since prematurity is the leading cause of death in children’s early years, there is an urgent need to strengthen both care for preterm babies as well as prevention efforts — particularly maternal health and nutrition — so as to improve childhood survival,” the authors said.

“For those who live, preterm birth also significantly increases the likelihood of suffering major illnesses, disability and developmental delays, and even chronic diseases as adults like diabetes and heart conditions,” they said.

The study derives estimates from population-based and nationally representative data to generate internationally comparable country-level estimates for 2020.