ASHEVILLE – Infant mortality rates in western North Carolina range from a low of 5.9% in Jackson County to a high of 14.5% in Cherokee County. One in 6 of these babies die within one month of birth, with low birth weight as the major cause.
But the three-year improving trend in North Carolina preterm birth rates is re-energizing local prematurity awareness efforts. The March of Dimes released its 2011 Premature Birth Report Card and although North Carolina received a “D”, the trend in moving in the right direction. “Since 2006, the rates in North Carolina have improved and we will continue to work together with our partners for stronger, healthier babies,” said local March of Dimes Vice Chair Michaela Blanton Lowe, who knows all too well the toll that a premature birth takes on a family and the community. Her son Tye was born 7 weeks premature and died after living for only 4 ½ months.. “We are determined to find and implement solutions to improve the health of babies, such as improving access to health care coverage, helping women quit smoking, and preventing unnecessary early c-sections so more babies can get a healthy start in life.”
The United States received a “C” on the March of Dimes Report Card. Grades are based on comparing the state’s and the nation’s 2009 preliminary preterm birth rates with the new March of Dimes 2020 goal of 9.6 percent of all live births. The U.S. preterm birth rate is 12.2 percent down nearly 5 percent from the peak of 12.8 percent in 2006.
Preterm birth, birth before 37 weeks completed gestation, is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. At least 39 weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.
This year, for the first time, a World Prematurity Day will be observed on November 17th by the March of Dimes. along with organizations in Africa, Europe, and Australia. An estimated 13 million babies are born preterm and of those one million die as a result of their early birth, according to an October 2009 March of Dimes report on the global toll of preterm birth. “We must find answers to this problem that continues to threaten the health of babies,” says Jonathan Bailey, March of Dimes Board Chair.
The local office of the March of Dimes has planned Prematurity Awareness events on Thursday, November 17th to include:
o Lighting the bridge at Mission Hospital in March of Dimes purple to symbolize hope for a
healthy start for more babies.
o Lighting at Vance Monument downtown at 5:15 by Mayor Terry Bellamy.
o Local media personalities will be wearing “purple for preemies” to show their support of the work of the March of Dimes and asking others to do the same.
For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com/northcarolina or call the local office at 258-1234.