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Global health leaders to address urgent crisis of prematurity and stillbirth

Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March of Dimes, PATH, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Health Organization collaborate to address suffering caused by millions of deaths and disabilities

SEATTLE, USA, 21 April 2009 - Every year around the world, more than three million stillbirths occur, and more than one million babies die because they were born preterm. Today, the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS) announced a collaborative effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March of Dimes, PATH, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine the causes of prematurity and stillbirth and identify and promote effective interventions.

These global health organisations will sponsor an invitation-only International Conference on Prematurity and Stillbirth, May 7–10, 2009, in Seattle, at which maternal, newborn and child health leaders will raise awareness of this immense global health burden, propose a roadmap for future research efforts and build a foundation for policy changes that support prevention and treatment globally.

GAPPS is conducting a comprehensive landscape review of published and unpublished data on premature birth and stillbirth research and interventions, which will inform the conference. The review, developed by an international team of investigators and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be released post-conference.

Globally, prematurity is the leading cause of deaths that occur in the first 28 days of life, according to The Lancet’s Neonatal Survival Series. The Institute of Medicine estimates US healthcare costs associated with premature birth exceeded $26 billion in 2005. Premature babies who do survive often suffer serious health problems, such as cerebral palsy, brain injury, respiratory troubles and developmental problems. Despite the magnitude of these global health problems, prematurity and stillbirth have attracted remarkably little attention, and many causes remain a mystery.

“We simply cannot accept the immense suffering of families affected by prematurity and stillbirths. We are proud to bring together the best minds in science, public health, research and policy to help stop these devastating health problems,” said Craig Rubens, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of GAPPS, which was launched by Seattle Children’s in 2007. “Seattle Children’s made this one of our highest research priorities after we realized how many of our patients suffer from problems related to premature birth.”

“There has not been enough attention given to preterm births and stillbirth,” said Gary Darmstadt, M.D., M.S., interim deputy director, Integrated Health Solutions Development, and Strategic Planning Team Leader, Maternal Newborn Child Health, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “By bringing together researchers, program managers and policy makers to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of these important global health issues, we hope to ensure that advances in health are created and delivered to the families who need them.”

“The March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign seeks to spare parents the grief of losing a child to an early birth and the anxiety of caring for an infant born too soon,” said Jennifer L. Howse, Ph.D., president of the March of Dimes. “We're helping to educate health care professionals worldwide about best practices in perinatal health and to raise public awareness about cost-effective interventions that can improve the health of mothers and babies. Working with the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, we hope to successfully elevate the crisis of preterm birth on the international health care agenda.”

“Pregnant women and new babies need access to care and medical attention to make this critical time as healthy and safe as possible,” said Christopher Elias, M.D., M.P.H., president and CEO of PATH. “This conference is an excellent forum to begin a collaboration to find meaningful solutions and interventions for the challenges of prematurity and stillbirth. PATH is dedicated to ensuring that every newborn has the opportunity to thrive.”

“Rich and poor countries have made remarkable progress over the past two decades in reducing child mortality around the world. Still, nearly four million newborns die each year. Many lives could be saved if we better understood how to prevent prematurity and stillbirth,” said Charles MacCormack, Ph.D., president and CEO of Save the Children.

“Of the more than nine million under-five deaths annually, four million occur in the first 28 days of life,” said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF. “A large proportion of these deaths occur because of premature birth. Premature babies who do survive, often suffer serious health problems.”

 “It is time to break the silence that surrounds stillbirths,” said Daisy Mafubelu, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health, and board member of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health. “Most of these deaths are avoidable and in many cases could be prevented through better care during childbirth.”

GAPPS formed a Scientific Advisory Council of high-level representatives from international health agencies and academic centers to guide conference planning. The council provides objective oversight to the reviews, analyses and conference program.



ABOUT the Organisations


Gretchen Sorensen (Seattle)
Tel: + 206 794 1057,

Susan Papp (Washington, DC)
Tel: + 202 904 6535,

Brian Hansford, UNICEF New York
Tel: + 212 326 7269, e-mail:





State of the World's Children 2009 Report

SOWC 2009 - Maternal and Newborn Health


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