Nearly 1,000 babies were spared the health consequences of an early birth and potentially $52.7 million in health care and societal costs were avoided in Arizona, according to the March of Dimes. Based on 2012 preliminary data, Arizona has reduced its rate of preterm birth from a rate of 12.7% in 2009 to 11.6% in 2012 — an 8.7% reduction. Arizona Department of Health Services and March of Dimes Arizona Chapter will today receive the March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award, for lowering their preterm birth rates by more than 8 percent since 2009. Arizona’s long-term target of a premature birth rate is 9.6 percent by 2020.
“This award reflects a team effort between March of Dimes, the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona Perinatal Trust as well as our health care organizations and agencies that have joined us to fight premature birth in Arizona,” Will Humble, Director, Arizona Department of Health Services.
The Virginia Apgar Award is given to recognize states that accepted and met a challenge from the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to lower their preterm birth rates 8 percent between 2009 and 2014. “This progress shows that when infant health becomes a leadership priority, significant progress is possible and families and babies benefit,” says Dr. Paul E. Jarris, executive director of ASTHO.
The award is named in honor of Virginia Apgar, MD, who developed the five-point APGAR score to evaluate an infant’s health at birth, and who served as vice president for medical affairs of the March of Dimes.
Health officials in Arizona are worked closely with March of Dimes staff and volunteers on the “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” educational campaign, which urges hospitals, health care providers, and patients to follow the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines and reduce medically unnecessary elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy. The final weeks of pregnancy are crucial to a baby’s health because many vital organs, including the brain and lungs, are still developing.
The March of Dimes says that if every state met the 8 percent challenge, it would push the nation’s preterm birth rate down to about 11 percent, giving an estimated 40,000 more babies a healthy start in life. Such a change could save about $2 billion in health care and socio-economic costs, the March of Dimes says.
Preterm birth (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy) is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine report. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifelong health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and others.
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
In 2013, the March of Dimes celebrates its 75th Anniversary and its ongoing work to help babies get a healthy start in life. Early research led to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines that all babies still receive. Other breakthroughs include new treatments for premature infants and children with birth defects. About 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, and all have benefitted the March of Dimes life saving research and education. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com/arizona or nacersano.org.