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This is the VOA Special English Development Report, from Each year millions of babies are born too soon and too small. Premature...

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report, from

Each year millions of babies are born too soon and too small. Premature or preterm births are defined as births that take place earlier than thirty-seven weeks of pregnancy.

Prematurity is the leading cause of death in newborn babies. More than one-fourth of the four million newborns who die each year around the world were born too early.

Preterm babies that survive can suffer a lifetime of serious health conditions. The examples include cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing problems and learning disabilities. Families and communities face emotional, physical and financial costs.

Christopher Howson is the vice president for global programs at the March of Dimes, a nonprofit group. His group and the World Health Organization recently published a report called "The Global and Regional Toll of Preterm Birth."

He said: The crisis of preterm birth is under-recognized, undercounted, undervalued and underfunded. This reports shows that thirteen million babies are born every year preterm, and that over a million of those babies die as a result of being born too early."

And these are just estimates; the true numbers could be even higher.

More than eighty-five percent of preterm births happen in Africa and Asia. Africa has the highest rate, with about four million cases each year. Chris Howson says many of the causes of preterm births are related to poverty and weak health-care systems.

He says these include the poor overall health and nutrition of women. Infectious diseases. Lack of family planning. And the lack of good prenatal care programs that might identify problems early on in pregnancy.

Preterm births are a problem not just in the developing world.

The combined rate in the United States and Canada is the second highest in the world. Preterm birth rates in the United States have increased thirty-six percent in the last twenty-five years.

There are two reasons for this: An increase in pregnancies among women over age thirty-five. And an increase in the use of fertility treatments that can produce multiple births.

One of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for two thousand fifteen is to reduce death rates in young children by two-thirds.

Chris Howson says premature births must be reduced if that goal is to be met. What is being done about this issue? That will be our subject next week.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report.

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