March of Dimes, Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute announce Prematurity Prevention Initiative

March of Dimes launches NICU Family Support Program -- Calls for Congress to pass federal PREEMIE Act

LOUISVILLE, KY, NOV. 14, 2006 -- The March of Dimes is taking the best available thinking about how to prevent premature birth and putting it to the test. Together with the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, L.L.C., the March of Dimes today announced a Prematurity Prevention Initiative in Kentucky to see if bundling together proven interventions can lower a community's rate of preventable preterm births.

Officials announced the three-year initiative at a news conference at Norton Suburban Hospital here. Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes, also announced that Norton is the site of a new March of Dimes NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) Family Support© Program, which will provide Kentucky families of premature babies with help and support while their baby is hospitalized.

The March of Dimes and Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute will partner with the Kentucky Department of Health and plan to collaborate with six major Kentucky hospitals to reduce the preterm birth rate. At the intervention hospitals, the partnership will help provide expectant mothers, their families, the community and obstetric, pediatric and nursing professionals with a broadly coordinated combination of clinical, educational and public-health interventions. These include access to screening and referral for treatable or preventable conditions; consistent care before, during and between pregnancies; professional education; and consumer awareness campaigns to share knowledge of long-term effects of preterm birth and how to prevent them.

If the initiative demonstrates that the "bundling" approach to interventions is effective in Kentucky, the March of Dimes and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute hope to replicate the model in high-risk areas around the country.

"The March of Dimes partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute underscores the private sector commitment to preventing premature birth," said Dr. Howse. "On this national Prematurity Awareness Day, the March of Dimes joins with parents across the nation in calling on Congress to show public sector commitment by passing the PREEMIE Act. America must not allow the cries of these babies to go unheeded. It's time for the federal government to make prematurity prevention a national health priority."

The PREEMIE Act was passed by the Senate (S. 707) in August, but is stalled in the House (HR 2861). This legislation would establish a Surgeon General's Conference on premature birth and would implement recommendations made by the independent and prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM). A recent IOM report estimated the societal cost of premature birth to be over $26 billion annually.

More than 508,000 U.S. babies are born preterm (prior to 37 completed weeks gestation) each year and the preterm birth rate has increased more than 30 percent since 1981. Babies who survive face risks of lifelong health challenges from cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and vision and hearing loss, as well as other developmental problems. Even babies born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation, called late preterm, have a greater likelihood of developing respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), feeding difficulties, hypothermia (temperature instability), jaundice and to have less mature brain development than full-term babies.

"Premature birth takes an enormous toll on families and on society," said Bonnie J. Petrauskas, a director of the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute. "It is our hope that by putting in place a comprehensive educational effort that supports medical professionals and helps communities take action, we can ensure healthier outcomes for mothers and babies in Kentucky and one day, across the nation."

"Protecting the health and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens – Kentucky's infants – is one of our key goals at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services," said Mark D. Birdwhistell, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "By partnering with the March of Dimes and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, we will not only be working to improve the lives of children in our own state, but also throughout the country."

March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Month corporate supporters include FedEx, CIGNA, Motherhood Maternity and First Response. Media sponsors are American Baby, Working Mother and Babytalk. Prematurity Awareness Month efforts are also supported by the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, L.L.C. The Prematurity Campaign is supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Women's Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses.

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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. For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at marchofdimes.com or its Spanish language Web site at nacersano.org.

The Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, L.L.C., is a nonprofit entity dedicated to saving mothers and infants by addressing global health priorities through education in collaboration with health care systems. For more information please visit www.JJPI.com.

CONTACT:

For the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute:
Jennifer Robinson, gabbegroup, 212-220-4444, jenn.robinson@gabbe.com


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