On Thursday, November 7th, March of Dimes held a briefing to discuss their 2019 Annual Report Card for Maternal and Child Health. Stacey Stewart, President and CEO of March of Dimes, opened by illustrating the ongoing and growing infant and maternal health crisis in the United States today. , There are significant geographical and race disparities in preterm birth rates that need to be addressed.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical and Health Officer at March of Dimes, walked through the key findings of the report. The U.S. preterm birth rate rose to 10.02 percent of births in 2018. After nearly a decade of declines, 2018 is the fourth year in a row with an increase. Gupta discussed the significant birth disparities between different racial/ethnic groups:

• Preterm birth is 49 percent higher in Black women than all other women.
• American Indian women and Alaska Native women also have a higher preterm birth rate.

The Report Card Preterm birth rates worsened in 30 states between 2017 and 2018 and the U.S. earned an overall “C” grade. Oregon was the only state that earned a “A” grade, with fifteen states earning a D+ or lower, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico with a “F” grade.

March of Dimes recommends a group of six actions to improve the health of mothers and their babies. Mainly, these recommendations focus on the necessity of access to healthcare and affordable health insurance coverage. 90% of women in the United States give birth in their reproductive years, but nearly 55% of moms who were insured by Medicaid for their delivery were uninsured six months later. That is why March of Dimes recommends extending Medicaid coverage for postpartum moms. Prenatal care is also essential for expecting mothers and is shown to reduce premature birth by 33%.

The briefing included presentations by panelists Tiffany Spina, a March of Dimes Parent Advocate speaking on her personal experience with preterm birth, Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, a Medical Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Karyl Rattay, Director of  the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, and Dr. Andrew Bremer, Acting Chief of the Pregnancy and Perinatology at the National Institutes of Health.

The panelists agree that this is one crisis, not two. The key indicators for preterm birth are the same indicators seen in maternal health complications; the health of moms and their babies are interconnected.

Dr. Zsakeba Henderson highlighted what the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health is doing to promote optimal and equitable health in women and infants. The CDC has created Perinatal Quality Collaboratives (PQCS), which consist of state or multi-state networks that are working to advance infant and maternal health by spreading best practices, optimizing resources, and addressing gaps by working with clinical experts as well as parents.

Dr. Bremer’s research showed that 12% of infant mortality worldwide is due to being born too early. The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) is in the process of conducting birth related research to find new and innovative treatments to help newborns, specifically premature infants. To do this research, NICHD has put together the Neonatal Research Network, assembled of 15 centers with 40 hospitals across the country. The Neonatal Research Network is currently doing six different studies to help save the lives of babies born preterm. “This is not just a matter of increased survival; this is about increased quality of life,” Bremer concluded.

November is prematurity awareness month and to learn more about March of Dimes, visit their site at marchofdimes.org for additional information and resources.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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