7,000 Babies Stillborn Every Day Worldwide; The Question Is Why?

Mothers in Zimbabwe wait to give birth in shelters.

A new report says 7,000 babies are stillborn across the world every day.

The report, published in The Lancet says an overwhelming 98% of the 2.6 million stillbirths each year are in the world’s poorest nations.

Save the Children said current opportunities to address the problem were currently being missed and the authors of the Lancet report suggest that better clinical care and monitoring could cut the number of stillborns in the poorer countries in half by 2020.

Those stillbirths are being neglected, the study says, and are taking what they call an “invisible toll” on those countries with Sub-Sahara Africa and South Asian countries suffering the most.

“Care at birth will give us the biggest return and saves mothers, newborns and children,” Dr Joy Lawn of Save the Children told the BBC.

“Another really missed opportunity is treating syphilis during pregnancy and particularly in southern Africa, syphilis still kills babies and we estimate that around 136,000 stillbirths could be averted every year and that’s at relatively low cost – it’s about making your antenatal clinic services work.

“Other critical things would be treating hypertension in pregnancy, identifying diabetes in women who are pregnant and managing that better and then identifying babies that aren’t growing well.”

On the other side of the spectrum, rates for stillbirths in the UK are higher than in almost every other high-income country, a series of reports suggest.

The UK had about 4,100 stillbirths in 2009 and, with a rate of 3.5 per 1,000 births, was ranked 33rd in a list of 193 countries – down from 26th in 1995.

Only France and Austria ranked lower among high-income nations.

Alice Pullen, who describes herself on her blog as “the mother of one perfect boy who didn’t quite make it into our big wide world”, spoke to the BBC this week about her experience of stillbirth.

“The reason we don’t want to talk about it is we don’t want to scare mothers,” she said. “They talk about down syndrome, they talk about lots of other problems but there is this fear, the whole health service seems to ignore stillbirth”.

Professor Gordon Smith, head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Cambridge, said that the medical understanding of stillbirth was still “very basic”.

“What we have here is a fundamental absence of knowledge,” he said.

You can hear Alice Pullen discuss the health industry’s obsession with 40 weeks, her stillbirth, and the fact that stillbirths need to be discussed with pregnant mothers more by clicking here.

You can find the report published in The Lancet.

Image: flickr.com/DFID

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