The Public Health Problem No One Wants To Talk About


New research estimates that every year more than 2 million women around the world have stillborn babies, yet there’s little research done on how to fix the problem. In America, while there’s constant talk about protecting unborn babies, few people want to focus on the public health problems that lead to stillbirths.

The Associated Press reports that a new study funded by Save the Children, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the number of stillbirths could range from 2.1 million to 3.8 million worldwide, but not enough data is collected to even know how big the problem is. Researchers came up with the figures using reported statistics from 33 countries and modeled estimates for the 160 other countries where no information was available. They believe there are more stillbirths than children killed by malaria and AIDS combined.

Most stillbirths are happening in developing countries due to delivery complications, maternal infections, fetal growth problems, and congenital abnormalities. Yet some developed countries, including the United States, still have a troublingly high number of stillbirths, and the reason isn’t clear. Two years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called for doctors to perform more autopsies on stillborn babies, but since few insurance plans cover this and doctors understandably don’t want to pester grieving parents, not many take place.

Experts say the stillbirth rate hasn’t been dropping off as much as was expected in the U.S., Britain, and France. The U.S. has a relatively low stillbirth rate, but the estimates still highlight the shortcomings of our healthcare system:

Finland and Singapore had the lowest stillbirth rates worldwide – two per 1,000 births – while Nigeria and Pakistan were at the bottom of the list, with 42 and 47 stillbirths, respectively, per 1,000 births. In the U.S., there were six per 1,000 births, though the rate is nearly double for blacks.

The report estimated that many stillbirths could be prevented worldwide if women had access to better obstetric care and were treated for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and syphilis. Gary Darmstadt of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says “If all we did was to provide good-quality care during childbirth, at a cost of less than $1 per head, we could avert 1.4 million deaths of mothers, (babies) and stillbirths.” In the U.S. we already have the technology to provide better care, but proper medical treatment still isn’t as widely available as it should be.

Stillbirth Study: Thousands Dying Needlessly [AP]

Earlier: Steps Taken To Reduce Rate Of Stillbirths

Image via ampyang/Shutterstock.

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