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Study: 13 million preterm births per year

SEATTLE, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Preterm birth is the largest cause of child mortality and those who survive can experience serious short- and long-term health issues, U.S. researchers said.

Experts from the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth of Seattle Children's Hospital wrote in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth that globally, 13 million babies are born preterm and 3.2 million are stillborn each year.

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Neonatal deaths account for more than 42 percent of mortality in children under age 5 -- a rise from 37 percent in the year 2000, the report said. In addition, 1 million stillbirths that could be prevented with existing interventions occur each year during childbirth.

The report outlines the urgent need for increased focus and research to investigate further the magnitude, causes and consequences of preterm birth and stillbirth. Additionally it makes recommendations to speed up development of diagnostics, treatment and prevention strategies, with careful attention to ethical considerations, the researchers said.

"For the first time ever, experts from around the world have agreed to a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to solving this global tragedy," experts at the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth said in a statement.

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