Preterm birth is one of the highest burden single conditions highlighted in the Global Burden of Disease. An estimated 1 in 10 babies are born preterm each year2, and over one million die from preterm birth complications 3 most commonly due to lung immaturity called Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). Of those that survive without proper intervention, millions have long-term disabilities and a higher risk of adult chronic disease that put a major strain on families and economic potential globally.
There is an important preterm birth survival gap between high-income and low-income countries, due to differences in access to proven interventions, leaving an unethically large majority of the deaths in low-income countries. Although neonatal intensive care is widely available in high income settings, major reductions in deaths due to preterm birth complications are possible without this – for example both the UK and the US reduced their newborn death rates from 40 to 15 per 1000 without intensive care.4
Around 400,000 lives could be saved each year, with effective, high coverage Antenatal Corticosteroid (ANCS) injection interventions implemented in the highest burden countries.1 ANCS injection for women at risk of preterm delivery is the most effective intervention to reduce the risk of RDS for preterm babies5 and is the standard-of-care in most high-income countries. According to a meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in a Cochrane Review, ANCS injection for women with preterm labor has been found to reduce neonatal mortality by 31% and moderate/severe RDS by 45%5.
Currently, there is an estimated 90% coverage of indicated cases of women in preterm labor in high-income countries with ANCS injections, compared to an estimated 10% coverage in middle/low income, high burden countries.4 Immediate action is needed to close this coverage gap and save lives.