According to new research released on Tuesday, offering pregnant women straightforward and affordable healthcare options, like aspirin, could prevent more than a million babies in developing nations from having stillbirths or dying as newborns each year.
Almost no progress is being made in this area, according to a global team of researchers, who also estimated that one-quarter of babies born worldwide are either premature or underweight.
The researchers urged governments and organisations in 81 low- and middle-income countries to improve the care provided to women and newborns during pregnancy and delivery.
According to a series of papers published in the Lancet journal, eight tried-and-true and simple measures could prevent more than 565,000 stillbirths in these nations.
There were also treatments for malaria, syphilis, and bacteria in urine, as well as low-dose aspirin, progesterone, education on the negative effects of smoking, and supplements for micronutrients, protein, and energy.
More than 475,000 newborn babies could be saved if pregnant women were given access to steroids and doctors delayed clamping the umbilical cord, according to the study.
According to the researchers, it would cost $1.1 billion to put these changes into effect.
Per Ashorn, a professor at Tampere University in Finland and the lead study author, said that this is “a fraction of what other health programmes receive.”
Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a different study author, told AFP that the researchers used a new definition for infants who were born prematurely or who were underweight.
According to her, a Finnish doctor “a bit randomly selected” the traditional criteria for determining a baby had a low birthweight in 1919: if it was born weighing less than 2.5 kilogrammes (5.8 pounds).
Despite ample evidence that “those babies are not all the same,” this “very blunt measure” has remained the standard for more than a century, according to Lawn.
To determine the frequency of “too soon and too small” births, researchers examined a database containing 160 million live births from 2000 to 2020.
Surprisingly, we discovered that once you start to think about it in a more nuanced way, this is much more common.
The new category of “small vulnerable newborns” was created by the researchers after it was determined that 35.3 million, or one in four, of all babies born in the world in 2020, were either premature or too small.
Lawn emphasised that every nation was affected, even though the majority of the babies were born in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Lawn, this tendency for these issues “to be something that happens to families and women with less of a voice” is one reason why progress has stagnated.
She added that pregnant African-American women in the US, for instance, received less care overall than other groups.