Today marks the fourth World Prematurity Day. The need for all of us, including the UK, to sit up and pay attention is more important than ever. New research from the Lancet has shown that prematurity is the biggest cause of death in children under 5 across the world. This also holds true for the UK where premature births account for 39% of all deaths in children in this age group.
Over the last decade or so, here in the UK we've seen improvements in care which mean we're able to save babies who are born earlier and smaller than ever before. However, the number of babies being born prematurely and the rates of life-long health problems they can experience remain largely unchanged. In the UK, 1 in every 13 babies are born prematurely, and 1 in 5 babies born before 27 weeks will experience a lasting disability such as a sensory impairment or cerebral palsy. Few of the earliest babies will escape problems such as breathing difficulties, problems with their hearts or bowels or simply difficulty fighting off infections.
The key to saving more babies' lives and minimising the impact of premature birth lies in trying to prevent premature births from happening in the first place. Tommy's funds the largest pre-term surveillance clinic in the world and our approach is paying off with a reduction in the local pre-term birth rate from 9.2% of all births to 7.2%. If rolled out nationally, it's estimated 15% of all premature births could be prevented. Where premature birth can be predicted, but not prevented, the team are able to administer treatment to help strengthen the baby so that they have the best possible start.
But we also want to be able to help parents here and now. Prematurity often comes with few warning signs and mums and dads can be unprepared. Some may not have started attending their antenatal classes or even begun thinking about the birth. Uncertainty about their baby's health and seeing them linked to wires and machines can be an incredibly frightening and scary experience.
It's important these parents have readily available information and advice at their fingertips. That's why we have created the UK's first ever prematurity app, My Premature Baby. It's got all the health information from our printed guide Having a Premature Baby included and allows parents to track their babies' growth and development, keep diaries, share their babies' progress and find other parents who have been on the same prematurity journey.
By spotting babies at risk of coming early, we can work to give them the best chance of being born healthy. When this can't happen, we need to be supporting their parents and our new app is one way of ensuring this.