A joint UN and WHO report finds that vast majority of stillbirths occur within poorer countries, and, with quality health services, would be completely preventable.
A joint report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) says that nearly two million babies were born dead in 2019. The study found that stillbirths disproportionately affect poorer countries, and that the number of babies born dead has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption in health care services.
As reported in Vatican News, the study, entitled “A Neglected Tragedy: The Global Burden of Stillbirths,” found that 84 percent of stillbirths occur in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
A stillbirth is defined as when a baby is born dead at 28 weeks of gestation of more.
“Losing a child at birth or during pregnancy is a devastating tragedy for a family, one that is often endured quietly, yet all too frequently, around the world,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Every 16 seconds a mother somewhere will suffer the unspeakable tragedy of stillbirth… For many of these mothers,” she said, “it simply didn’t have to be this way,” she said.
The report found that in 2019 about half of the world’s stillbirths took place in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, while only 6 percent of the total occurred in Europe, Northern America, Australia and New Zealand.
About 40 percent of stillbirths were found to have occurred during labor, leading researchers to conclude that they would have been preventable, given proper health care worker training and timely emergency care.
According to WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “the tragedy of stillbirth shows how vital it is to reinforce and maintain essential health services, and how critical it is to increase investment in nurses and midwives.”
The disruption in health care services due to the coronavirus lockdown was seen to exacerbate the problem of stillbirths.
The report’s authors estimate that a 50 percent reduction in health services could cause nearly 200,000 additional stillbirths over a 12-month period in 117 low- and middle-income countries.
Vatican News notes that data collected from 9 hospitals in Nepal for a study published in The Lancet Global Health in August showed that stillbirths increased during the lockdown. At the beginning of the lockdown, in late March,there were 14 stillbirths per 1,000 births. There were 21 stillbirths per 1,000 births by the end of May.