White plains, N.Y., July 13, 2006 -- The March of Dimes today called for passage of proposed federal legislation to address the nation's skyrocketing rate of premature birth. The severe health consequences and extraordinary medical costs associated with prematurity are documented in a new report, "Preterm Birth Causes, Consequences, and Prevention," released today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
"Today's report underscores the need to address premature birth in our country with the same sense of urgency and focus that has been brought to other threats to children's health, including secondhand tobacco smoke and rising rates of obesity," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. She called on Congress to take quick action by passing legislation known as the PREEMIE Bill (S. 707; HR 2861) that would authorize a Surgeon General's Conference and set priorities for increased research on premature birth.
The March of Dimes also pledged to strengthen its national Prematurity Campaign launched in 2003 by:
Dr. Howse said the March of Dimes supports the three major IOM recommendations contained in the report, which are 1) establish multidisciplinary research centers; 2) set priorities for research; and 3) study and inform public policy on preterm birth.
The March of Dimes agrees that prenatal care is vital to identifying risks associated with preterm birth, and supports the IOM suggestion that routine ultrasound be performed early in pregnancy to accurately establish gestational age in order to improve obstetric care and avoid inadvertent early deliveries.
More than a half million babies are born prematurely (less than 37 completed weeks gestation) each year in the United States and the problem continues to grow -- the preterm birth rate has increased by more than 30 percent since 1981. Thousands of these babies do not live to see their first birthday each year. Babies who survive face risks of lifelong challenges of cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and vision and hearing loss and other developmental problems.
The IOM report estimates preterm birth cost the United States more than $26.2 billion in 2005 in terms of medical care, lost household and labor market productivity, and early intervention and education services. An earlier, separate study by the March of Dimes estimated that the first-year in-patient hospital charges alone were $18.1 billion in 2003. While the two estimates were derived using different methods and are not directly comparable, they both convey the significant economic burden of preterm birth in the United States.
The IOM study was co-sponsored by the March of Dimes and other national organizations concerned with maternal and infant health. The report adds urgency to the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign, and stresses that preterm birth is a complex problem that can only be prevented by a sustained, comprehensive research agenda.
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth. For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at marchofdimes.com or its Spanish language Web site at nacersano.org.
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