Stillbirths remain excessively pervasive, despite the fact that the factors contributing to them are mostly avoidable, a recent study has revealed.
The findings, featured in the journal The Lancet on January 18, show that currently approximately 2.6 million stillbirths occur on an annual basis (the equivalent of 7,200 deaths every day), and that little progress has been achieved in curbing the incidence of such cases in the last years.
Namely, while back in 2000 a total of 24.7 stillbirths were reported for every 1000 births, in 2015 there were 18.4 such cases per 1,000 births, which is a much higher percentage than the one expected to be achieved by 2030 (less than 12 stillbirths per 1,000 births, in every single nation).
In contrast with miscarriages or late fetal losses, which result in the death of the baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy have passed, stillbirths occur when a growing fetus dies following that milestone.
Intrapartum stillbirths for instance happen right as the infant is being delivered, and this study has just shown that as many as 1.3 million such instances are reported every year.
According to lead investigator Joy Lawn, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it’s nothing short of alarming that so many babies pass away in the late stages of pregnancy, especially during labor, after having spent several months developing in the womb.
The high number of stillbirths is particularly worrisome when considering the fact that the vast majority of these deaths could’ve been easily preventable.
For instance, around 1 in 10 of all the babies that are eventually stillborn meet their end because their mothers had been malnourished, overweight or obese, or exhibited an overall poor nutritional status.
In addition, approximately 8% of the fetuses who have survived for more than 24 weeks into the pregnancy die after being exposed to malaria, and a similar percentage passes away as a direct result of intrauterine syphilis infections.
The highest incidence of stillbirths was identified in Pakistan (43.1 per 1,000 births), and almost equally affected were African countries located south of the Sahara desert, where researchers have identified the fewest improvements when it comes to preventing deaths that occur in utero.
In addition, even more developed countries like Ukraine and Iceland have excessively high numbers of stillbirths, women of low income being twice as likely to have their baby die in the womb compared to other expectant mothers benefiting from a more elevated socio-economic status.
There are also major disparities regarding the prevalence of stillbirths based on the the ethnicity of the pregnant woman, with South Asian and African female patients being around 3 times more at risk of delivering a stillborn baby.
On the other hand, study authors have identified regions where the incidence of stillbirths has been declining. The most significant progress has been achieved by the Netherlands, where such mortality rates have decreased by around 7% starting from the year 2000.
Also successful in lowering the number of stillborn babies were developing countries such as Cambodia (experiencing a 4% downturn), Bangladesh (with a 3.4% decrease) and Rwanda (with a 3% reduction of intrauterine death rates).
Based on these findings, study authors argue that more extensive efforts should be carried out globally in order to eliminate avoidable risk triggers associated with stillbirths.
In addition, further research should be conducted in order to identify other health conditions and harmful environment factors that may be causing fetal development to be halted abruptly.
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