Half of 2.6 Million Annual Stillborn Births Could Be Avoided, Study Finds

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stillborn baby

More than 2.6 million pregnancies end in stillbirths. Credit: Getty Images

Stillborn births are one of those hush-hush tragedies families often don't talk about. Now, adding to the trauma and pain, researchers have discovered that more than half of stillbirths worldwide could be avoided with proper medical care.

Calling it "a global health issue," researchers say more than 2.6 million pregnancies end in stillbirths each year -- more deaths worldwide than AIDS and malaria combined, Reuters reports.

Every day, more than 7,200 babies are stillborn, and 98 percent of them occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to a release from the World Health Organization, which co-sponsored the study. High-income countries are not immune, either, with one in 320 babies stillborn -- a rate that has changed little in the past decade.

"It's a scandal there are so many stillbirths that can be prevented," Joy Lawn, director of global evidence and policy at Save the Children in South Africa who led the Lancet study, tells USA Today. Politics surrounding public health have pushed stillborns to the back burner, sidelined by maternal and child health programs, she adds.

The stillbirth rate varies sharply by country, from the lowest rates of 2 per 1,000 births in Finland and Singapore and 2.2 per 1,000 births in Denmark and Norway, to highs of 47 in Pakistan and 42 in Nigeria, 36 in Bangladesh, and 34 in Djibouti and Senegal, according to the World Health release. Rates also vary widely within countries. In India, for example, rates range from 20 to 66 per 1,000 births in different states.

Researchers hope the findings will lead to sweeping health care policies surrounding stillborn births, Flavia Bustreo, of the World Health Organization, tells USA Today.

"Stillbirth is a heartbreaking loss for women and families," she tells the newspaper. "We need to acknowledge these losses and do everything we can to prevent them."

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