Global Health Leaders Gather to Address Urgent Crisis of Prematurity and Stillbirth

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Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March of Dimes, PATH, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Health Organization collaborate to address suffering caused by millions of deaths and disabilities each year

We're helping to educate health care professionals worldwide about best practices in perinatal health and to raise public awareness about cost-effective interventions that can improve the health of mothers and babies. Working with the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, we hope to successfully elevate the crisis of preterm birth on the international health care agenda.

Every year around the world, more than three million stillbirths occur, and more than one million babies die because they were born preterm. Today, the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS) announced a collaborative effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March of Dimes, PATH, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine the causes of prematurity and stillbirth and identify and promote effective interventions.

These global health organizations will sponsor an invitation-only International Conference on Prematurity and Stillbirth, May 7-10, 2009, in Seattle, at which maternal, newborn and child health leaders will raise awareness of this immense global health burden, propose a roadmap for future research efforts and build a foundation for policy changes that support prevention and treatment globally.

GAPPS is conducting a comprehensive landscape review of published and unpublished data on premature birth and stillbirth research and interventions, which will inform the conference. The review, developed by an international team of investigators and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be released post-conference.

Globally, prematurity is the leading cause of deaths that occur in the first 28 days of life, according to The Lancet's Neonatal Survival Series. The Institute of Medicine estimates US healthcare costs associated with premature birth exceeded $26 billion in 2005. Premature babies who do survive often suffer serious health problems, such as cerebral palsy, brain injury, respiratory troubles and developmental problems. Despite the magnitude of these global health problems, prematurity and stillbirth have attracted remarkably little attention, and many causes remain a mystery.

"We simply cannot accept the immense suffering of families affected by prematurity and stillbirths. We are proud to bring together the best minds in science, public health, research and policy to help stop these devastating health problems," said Craig Rubens, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of GAPPS, which was launched by Seattle Children's in 2007. "Seattle Children's made this one of our highest research priorities after we realized how many of our patients suffer from problems related to premature birth."

"There has not been enough attention given to preterm births and stillbirth," said Gary Darmstadt, M.D., M.S., interim deputy director, Integrated Health Solutions Development, and Strategic Planning Team Leader, Maternal Newborn Child Health, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "By bringing together researchers, program managers and policy makers to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of these important global health issues, we hope to ensure that advances in health are created and delivered to the families who need them."

"The March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign seeks to spare parents the grief of losing a child to an early birth and the anxiety of caring for an infant born too soon," said Jennifer L. Howse, Ph.D., president of the March of Dimes. "We're helping to educate health care professionals worldwide about best practices in perinatal health and to raise public awareness about cost-effective interventions that can improve the health of mothers and babies. Working with the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, we hope to successfully elevate the crisis of preterm birth on the international health care agenda."

"Pregnant women and new babies need access to care and medical attention to make this critical time as healthy and safe as possible," said Christopher Elias, M.D., M.P.H., president and CEO of PATH. "This conference is an excellent forum to begin a collaboration to find meaningful solutions and interventions for the challenges of prematurity and stillbirth. PATH is dedicated to ensuring that every newborn has the opportunity to thrive."

"Rich and poor countries have made remarkable progress over the past two decades in reducing child mortality around the world. Still, nearly four million newborns die each year. Many lives could be saved if we better understood how to prevent prematurity and stillbirth," said Charles MacCormack, Ph.D., president and CEO of Save the Children.

"Of the more than nine million under-five deaths annually, four million occur in the first 28 days of life," said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF. "A large proportion of these deaths occur because of premature birth. Premature babies who do survive, often suffer serious health problems."

"It is time to break the silence that surrounds stillbirths," said Daisy Mafubelu, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health, and board member of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health. "Most of these deaths are avoidable and in many cases could be prevented through better care during childbirth."

GAPPS formed a Scientific Advisory Council of high-level representatives from international health agencies and academic centers to guide conference planning. The council provides objective oversight to the reviews, analyses and conference program.

Media Contacts

  • Gretchen Sorensen (Seattle), T: 206-794-1057
  • Susan Papp (Washington, DC), T: 202-904-6535

GAPPS, an initiative of Seattle Children's, works to eliminate prematurity and stillbirths globally. The one million annual deaths from prematurity contribute to more under-five deaths than AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. In addition, a staggering three million stillbirths occur each year, yet this often-taboo topic is rarely addressed. In collaboration with diverse global partners in science, public health and policy, GAPPS is advancing research to understand causes; accelerating delivery of low-cost, effective interventions; and raising awareness about these neglected issues. GAPPS is also building a repository of data and specimens from pregnant women, such as blood and tissues, which will serve as a significant global resource in advancing medical and public health research.

March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. Capitalizing on our experience in research, health education, community-based programs and advocacy in the United States, the March of Dimes is working to improve the health of mothers and babies worldwide. The March of Dimes works with international partners to educate health care professionals about best practices in perinatal health and to raise public awareness about cost-effective interventions that can improve birth outcomes in countries around the globe. For the latest resources and information, visit or

PATH is an international nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private-sector partners, PATH helps provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act. PATH's work improves global health and well-being.

Save the Children
Save the Children is the leading, independent organization creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. For more than 75 years, Save the Children has worked to improve the lives of children and their families through programs in health, education and economic opportunities, and during times of crisis and conflict. Save the Children USA is a member of the International Save the Children Alliance, a global network of 27 independent Save the Children organizations working to ensure the well-being and protection of children in more than 100 countries.

UNICEF is on the ground in more than 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

World Health Organization
WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. In the 21st century, health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational health threats.

GAPPS International Team of Investigators

  • Craig E. Rubens, M.D., Ph.D., GAPPS, an initiative of Seattle Children's
  • Fernando C. Barros, M.D., Ph.D., Universidade Catolica de Pelotas
  • Maneesh Batra, M.D., M.P.H., University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Zulfiqar Bhutta, M.B.B.S., F.R.C.P., F.R.C.P.C.H., F.C.P.S., Ph.D., Aga Khan University
  • Michael G. Gravett, M.D., University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Thomas N. Hansen, M.D., Seattle Children's
  • Maureen Kelley, Ph.D., University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Joy Lawn, BMedSci, M.B. B.S., MRCP (paeds), M.P.H., Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children US
  • Cynthia Stanton, Ph.D., M.P.H., Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Cesar Victora, M.D., Ph.D., Universidade Federal de Pelotas

GAPPS Scientific Advisory Council

  • Robert E. Black, M.D., M.P.H., Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Gary L. Darmstadt, M.D., Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Christopher J. Elias, M.D., M.P.H., PATH
  • Mahmoud F. Fathalla, M.D., Assuit University, Egypt
  • Laurie Garrett, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Robert L. Goldenberg, M.D., Drexel College of Medicine
  • King K. Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD
  • Alan H. Jobe, M.D., Ph.D., Cincinnati Children's Hospital, University of Cincinnati
  • Michael Katz, M.D., March of Dimes
  • Mark A. Klebanoff, M.D., M.P.H., Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • Michael S. Kramer, M.D., McGill University
  • Eve M. Lackritz, M.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Vinod K. Paul, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.M.S., F.I.A.P., F.N.N.F., All India Institute of Medical Sciences
  • Ellen Piwoz , Sc.D., M.H.S., Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Pang Ruyan, M.D., M.P.H., Peking University
  • Peter Salama, M.D., M.P.H., UNICEF
  • Severin von Xylander, M.D., World Health Organization
  • Jacqueline Sherris, Ph.D., PATH
  • F. Bruder Stapleton, M.D., University of Washington and Seattle Children's
  • José Villar, M.D., M.S.C., M.P.H., F.R.C.O.G., University of Oxford
  • Daniel Wikler, Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health


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