HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Citing the dramatic rise in premature infant births, more than seventy youth and adult March of Dimes volunteers from around the state are in Harrisburg today to increase public awareness and meet with Governor Ed Rendell and key legislators to encourage funding of programs that help to prevent prematurity. Today, 1 in 8 babies is born premature. Prematurity (less than 37 weeks of gestation) is the leading cause of newborn death in the first month of life and babies who survive often face problems such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness and developmental disabilities. "The annual rate of babies born prematurely has risen 27 percent since 1981, and this rate is unacceptably high," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, March of Dimes president. In the last ten years, preterm birth in Pennsylvania has increased nearly six percent to 11 percent of all births. Preterm birth is highest for African-American women (17.3%). In 2001, the average hospital charge for a premature baby was $75,000 with an average stay of 24.7 days compared to $1,300 for an uncomplicated newborn stay of 1.9 days. The total national hospital bill for babies with a diagnosis of prematurity/lowbirth weight was approximately $13.6 billion in 2001, and there can be significant additional medical costs over the child's life. "Prematurity is an issue that impacts everyone," says Dr. Jay Greenspan, Director, Division of Neonatology, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, Vice Chairman and Professor of Pediatrics Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. "People don't realize how common prematurity is and how dangerous it can be. There is nothing harder than to see an infant be so sick and so innocent." Earlier this year, Dr. Greenspan signed on to chair statewide public awareness and professional education initiatives that are focused on preventing premature birth by increasing knowledge about the know risk factors and signs of preterm labor. An advocate for the March of Dimes, Dr. Greenspan also works to encourage additional support to fund research. Partnering with the March of Dimes in Prematurity Awareness Day effort are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) and corporate sponsors CIGNA, FedEx and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute. The March of Dimes is funding $75 million, five-year national campaign to increase public awareness and decrease the rate of premature birth. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education and advocacy to save babies. For more information, visit www.marchofdimes.com or, in Spanish, www.nacersano.org or call 1-888-MODIMES. Click on the baby band during November and our sponsors will donate $1 for research up to a total of $150,000.
SOURCE March of Dimes