Scientists have found eight simple, low-cost interventions that could help pregnant people across the world prevent nearly a million stillbirths every year.
The interventions can particularly help pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) prevent an estimated 566,000 stillbirths and 5.2 million babies a year from being born preterm or small with low birth weight, said researchers, including those from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
These eight interventions include the use of aspirin, nutrient supplements, balanced protein supplements, the treatment of syphilis, education for smoking cessation, prevention of malaria in pregnancy, providing progesterone vaginally and the treatment of an asymptomatic bacterial infection.
Researchers estimate in the new four-paper series published in The Lancet journal that the cost of implementing these measures would be around $1.1bn in 2030.
In 2020 alone, they said that, of the 135 million babies born alive, one in four or about 35 million, were born preterm or very small for their age.
The study series brings this group together under a new term – small vulnerable newborns (SVN) – estimating these babies were born in every country, with the majority in Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.
Scientists caution that the progress for reducing such preterm and low weight birth is off track.
While the Global Nutrition Target calls for a 30 per cent reduction of babies with low birthweight by 2030 from a 2012 baseline, the estimated annual rate of reduction is only 0.59 per cent.
Researchers called for urgent measures to improve the quality of care for women during pregnancy and at birth, and specifically for the scale-up of pregnancy interventions in 81 LMICs.
Targeting these countries can prevent approximately a third of stillbirths and a fifth of global newborn baby deaths, according to the series of studies.
In addition to these measures, scientists also called for better data collection to inform progress and drive accountability.
“Despite several global commitments and targets aimed at reducing SVN outcomes since 1990, every fourth baby in the world is ‘born too small’ or ‘born too soon’,” study lead author Per Ashorn from Tampere University in Finland said.
“Our Series suggests that we already have the knowledge to reverse the current trend and save the lives of 100,000s of babies a year at a cost of $1.1bn, a fraction of what other health programmes receive. We need national actors, with global partners, to urgently prioritise action, advocate and invest,” Dr Ashorn said.