Being born prematurely has now surpassed individual infectious diseases as the number one cause of death in young children around the world, according to a new study
The findings, published in the journal The Lancet, found nearly 1.1 million children died in 2013 as a result of being born prematurely. Pneumonia -- which remains a persistent cause of childhood mortality -- killed 935,000 young children worldwide, and childbirth complications accounted for the deaths of 720,000 children.
Still, infectious diseases as a whole killed the majority of children under 5 in 2013. Overall, an estimated 6.3 million children under 5 died in 2013.
Joy Lawn, a member of the research team who produced the study and a professor with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement that the report "marks a turning of the tide, a transition from infections to neonatal conditions."
“Two-thirds of the 1.1 million babies who die could be saved without intensive care,” Lawn told the Guardian. “It’s things like wrapping the baby, keeping it warm, breastfeeding and kangaroo mother care," which is holding the infant to the mother's chest, with skin-to-skin contact to keep the child warm and make it easier to breastfeed.
At the same time, childhood mortality around the world has declined. In 2013, 3.6 million fewer children under 5 died than did in 2000. About half of that can be attributed to work to combat pneumonia, diarrhea and measles. Progress in addressing preterm and congenital deaths has been slower, the study found.
India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and China rank among the countries with the highest numbers of children dying from premature birth, while some of the highest preterm death rates are concentrated in West African countries whose health-care systems are being overwhelmed by the Ebola epidemic.
The researchers, who came from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, project that if such trends regarding childhood mortality continue, 4.4 million children will die in 2030, with 60 percent of those deaths happening in sub-Saharan Africa.