More need to march 

Because these babies are premature, their organs, including the lungs and brain, haven’t had time to fully develop.

We must do more to help babies be born stronger and healthier. The March of Dimes joined organizations in Europe, Africa and Australia to declare November as Global Prematurity Awareness Month and focus attention on the serious impact premature birth has on babies and their families.

Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn deaths in the United States. The annual costs related to prematurity in the U.S. are estimated to be $26 billion, but the emotional costs to these families are much greater. Even babies born just a few weeks too soon can face serious health challenges and are at risk for lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, lung problems, vision and hearing loss and learning disabilities.

Each year, more than 7,600 babies in Oklahoma suffer the consequences of being born too soon. Awareness is the first step to solving this problem. The March of Dimes recently released its report card for each state. Oklahoma received a grade of “D” with its preterm birth rate of 13.8%, compared to a U.S. rate of 12.2%. But, we are improving from a grade of “F” in 2010.

In response to rising preterm birth rates, the March of Dimes in Oklahoma, along with support from the state Department of Health, has provided a grant for Oklahoma birthing hospitals to participate in the Every Week Counts collaborative to eliminate non-medically indicated scheduled cesareans and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy. This collaboration kicked off in April 2011, and thus far, 53 birthing hospitals in Oklahoma have joined this effort to reduce non-medical scheduled cesareans.

Oklahoma commonly ranks among the worst of all states in many health indicators, including preterm births. In response to this trend of worsening health outcomes, the Department of Health launched a statewide initiative in 2009 to reduce our infant mortality rate.

The most recent data from 2007 ranked Oklahoma at 46th with an infant mortality rate of 8.5 per 1,000 live births.

This means that about 450 babies born in Oklahoma in 2007 did not celebrate their first birthday.

Reducing preterm birth is just one way to help more Oklahoma babies reach their first birthday.

To find out more about this initiative — Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility — visit iio.health.ok.gov.

Visit facebook.com/worldprematurityday to learn more about how we can work with the March of Dimes for stronger, healthier babies.

—Lewis Jones
Oklahoma City

Jones is the chairman of the board for the state chapter of the March of Dimes.

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