Stillbirth Still a Major Problem

We've made tremendous strides in maternal and infant health—but one issue is as big a problem as ever: 2.6 million parents are affected by stillbirth a year.

Stillbirths Still a Major Problem Aleshyn_Andrei/Shutterstock

It seems like there's a new, amazing medical breakthrough in the field of maternal and infant health every day, but we've made very slow progress in regards to one major, major problem: Stillbirths still claim 2.6 million lives every year.

Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine highlights this problem. The research, which was published in The Lancet, indicates that while there have been significant reductions in the numbers of maternal and child deaths, rates of stillbirths have barely decreased. The most surprising part of all this? Most stillbirths are preventable, according to the research.

The Ending Preventable Stillbirth report series finds the rate of stillbirth reduction is just 2 percent, which isn't much, especially when you compare it to the progress made for maternal and child deaths (which decreased by 3 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively). The researchers point out that stillbirths can have long-ranging effects, including depression and economic loss.

The danger zones

Stillbirth rates are not equally distributed. The research shows that 98 percent of cases strike those in low or middle-income countries—the inequality of a child's chances of survival are startling: At the current rate it will take 160 years for a woman in Africa to have the same chance of delivering a live baby as a woman in a high-income country does. Additionally, two-thirds of all stillbirths occur in 10 countries—India saw an estimated 592,100 cases last year; while 43.1 of every 1,000 deliveries in Pakistan are stillbirths.

A global epidemic

With that being said, stillbirths are still very much a global epidemic, and high-income countries are also affected: In many high-income countries, the rates of stillbirths are higher than rates of infant death. The United States has made very little progress, with 0.4 percent reduction of stillbirths per year. According to researchers, rates can be lowered if healthcare providers treat infections during pregnancy, tackle issues like obesity, diabetes and hypertension, offer greater access to family planning services, and address global inequalities.

Related: Stillbirth Risk Higher for Black Women

"We must give a voice to the mothers of 7,200 babies stillborn around the world every day," co-lead researchers for the series, Joy Lawn, says. "There is a common misperception that many of the deaths are inevitable, but our research shows most stillbirths are preventable. Half of the 2.6 million annual deaths could be prevented with improved care for women and babies during labor and childbirth, and additionally, many more lives could be saved with effective care during pregnancy. We already know which existing interventions save lives. These babies should not be born in silence, their parents should not be grieving in silence, and the international community must break the silence as they have done for maternal and child deaths. The message is loud and clear—shockingly slow progress on stillbirths is unacceptable."

Related: The Mystery of Stillbirth: Seeking Explanations