Australia has made some progress in reducing stillbirths over the last 20 years but this neglected tragedy demands significantly more attention, according to a major new global report.
The United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation will today release its first ever comprehensive data analysis on global stillbirth rates.
The report, titled A Neglected Tragedy: The global burden of stillbirths shows that over the past two decades, progress in lowering the stillbirth rate has not kept pace with achievements in saving mothers’ lives or newborns in the first weeks of life.
It also warns the disruption to essential health services triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic could see an additional 200,000 stillbirths over a 12-month period.
The report, which classifies stillbirth as the birth of a baby with no signs of life after 28 weeks’ gestation, finds that while Australia has made some headway in reducing stillbirth rates since 2000, it has not kept pace with countries like Japan, Denmark and Singapore that have achieved greater improvements.
Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence Director, Professor Vicki Flenady, said the landmark report reinforced the need for a continued commitment from policy makers and health professionals to prioritise stillbirth as a significant public health challenge.
“Stillbirth is a devastating ordeal for families with long-term emotional, psychological and financial consequences. This new report from leading global organisations UNICEF and the WHO clearly shows Australia has more work to do when it comes to sparing families from this burden.”
“In Australia, there are some signs of a reduction in stillbirth rates and this is encouraging. We have introduced the Safer Baby Bundle to improve maternity practice and the Australian Government is currently finalising a National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan. However this report demonstrates that momentum must be maintained if we are to make real progress.”
With 40 per cent of stillbirths at term in Australia still “unexplained”, Professor Flenady said significantly more discovery research needed to be supported to find out why stillbirths are occurring, and help reduce late term stillbirths in particular. Higher rates of stillbirth among Indigenous, migrant and lower socioeconomic groups also need to be addressed.
“The next phase of our work to reduce stillbirth rates in Australia must focus on these dual pillars of discovery research and equity. By doing this, we could save the lives of hundreds of babies a year,” she said.
Margaret de Silva
Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth
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