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Press release

Research finds baby boys are at higher risk of death and disability due to preterm birth

NEW YORK, 17 November 2013 – A series of ground-breaking global studies on preterm birth and disability released to time with World Prematurity Day finds that baby boys are at a higher risk of death and disability due to preterm birth than baby girls.

According to nearly 50 researchers at 35 institutions, these disabilities range from learning problems and blindness to deafness and motor problems, including cerebral palsy.

The six major papers in Pediatric Research, published by Nature, show that boys are 14 per cent more likely to be born preterm than girls.

Among the 15.1 million preterm babies born across the world every year, nearly one million die due to prematurity, while 13 million survived beyond the first month of life. Of the survivors, 345,000, or 2.7 per cent, had moderate or severe impairment and 567,000, or 4.4 per cent, had mild impairment. 

For many children with disabilities, exclusion begins in the first days of life with their birth going unregistered. Lacking official recognition, they are cut off from the social services and legal protections that are crucial to their survival and prospects. Their marginalization only increases with discrimination.

“For children with disabilities to count, they must be counted – at birth, at school and in life,” says Mickey Chopra, M.D., PhD, UNICEF Chief of Health.

In The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities, UNICEF urges governments to ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to save more new-born lives and to support families to meet the costs of caring for children with disabilities.

Improving prematurity prevention and care is a key part of a wider drive to reduce new-born deaths and improve quality care at the time of birth, when risks are highest for both mother and their babies.

"We need to increase training and support for all those who are delivering the babies -- from obstetricians and paediatricians to midwives and nurses," said Dr Chopra

More than 50 partners, convened by UNICEF and WHO, are developing a major new global plan to improve newborn health. The plan will focus on improving the quality of care for women and children during labor and delivery, as well as the critical few days before and after birth. The Every Newborn plan (www.everynewborn.org) will be launched during the World Health Assembly, in May 2014.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information, please contact:
Katja Iversen
Chief, Strategic Communication and Public Advocacy
Division of Communication, UNICEF
Tel: +1 212 326 7553
Cell: +1 917 213 0065




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