On November 1st, the March of Dimes kicked off Prematurity Awareness Month by releasing their ninth annual Premature Birth Report Card for the US and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, this year’s report did not bear good news; for the second year in a row, the national premature birth rate has worsened, increasing from 9.62 percent of pregnancies in 2015 to 9.8 percent of pregnancies in 2016. The national uptick in preterm births is particularly worrying given that preterm birth is the leading cause of infant death and can contribute to lifelong disabilities.

These numbers are a wake-up call to those interested in seeing a reduction in preterm birth rates. Commenting on the announcement, Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes, said the following: “The 2017 March of Dimes Report Card demonstrates that moms and babies in this country face a higher risk of preterm birth based on race and zip code . . . We see that preterm birth rates worsened in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and among all racial/ethnic groups. This is an unacceptable trend that requires immediate attention.”

In the report, Puerto Rico’s preterm birth rate, which did decline in 2015, was announced to have risen slightly from 11.4 to 11.5 percent. Specifically, preterm births later in pregnancies (34-36 weeks of gestation) increased while earlier and more detrimental preterm births (less than 34 weeks gestation) remained constant. PROTECT co-director Akram Alshawabkeh says of the report card, “While the news of the rise is discouraging to PROTECT after years of community engagement efforts to reduce preterm births in Puerto Rico, the team’s resolve is also strengthened for continued efforts.”

Since the Center’s inception, PROTECT has partnered with the March of Dimes in Puerto Rico in effort to raise awareness of and to educate health professionals on strategies to reduce rate of preterm births on the island. PROTECT co-director Dr. José Cordero is a former member of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees and a former Chair of the Puerto Rico Prematurity Taskforce, a community group that has contributed to a reduction of preterm births on the island through their advocacy for reducing early elective deliveries before 39 weeks gestation.  This reduction of the preterm birth rate has been drastic, dropping from 19.9% in 2006 to 11.4% in 2015, leading to Puerto Rico being awarded the Virginia Apgar Award two years in a row. PROTECT’s March of Dimes partnership has expanded to educating healthcare professionals about the Zika virus and its effects on fetal development. Dr. José Cordero has been working as of late to take his passion for improving pregnancy outcomes from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S., joining the Georgia chapter of March of Dimes in addressing their high rate of preterm birth.

PROTECT looks forward to future partnerships with the March of Dimes, as well as to continued advocacy for maternal and infant health in Puerto Rico and the U.S. as a whole. View the full report card, including details about each region here.