In celebration of World Prematurity Awareness Day, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association announce a major improvement in the well-being of babies born in Virginia. The state has seen a decrease of 18.2 percent in infant mortality, from 2007 to 2012, which means nearly 200 more babies a year are thriving and celebrating their first birthday. Strong collaborative networks among public, private and non-profit organizations focusing on evidence-based methods of reducing the mortality rates have played a significant role in achieving this reduction.
“Shared priorities and goals are making a difference,” said State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine, MD, MPH, FAAFP. “Earlier this month, Virginia received a ‘B’ on the March of Dimes’ annual Report Card, that’s above the national average and well above last year’s grade of ‘C.’ This success is the result of concerted teamwork and partnership among several VDH Offices, local health departments, health care providers, public/private partnerships and organizations like VHHA. ”
VDH, with its stakeholders and partners, identified objectives and strategies to improve birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality. This collaboration led to the completion of the “Thriving Infants’ Strategic Plan,” which draws upon best practices for evidence-based interventions to reduce IMR. One very successful evidence-based intervention, which is sponsored by VHHA, is the prevention of early elective deliveries (EED).
“Best practice research has shown that babies who are born after 39 weeks of gestation tend to be healthier than those born sooner,” says Abraham Segres, VHHA Vice President for Quality and Patient Safety. “These babies also tend to have better developed organs, eat and thrive better, and have less difficulty breathing. This is good news for infant health, and we are encouraged as we continue to build upon this success with other interventions to reduce infant mortality.”
In just one year, the EED initiative reduced the percentage of elective deliveries in Virginia occurring between 37 and 39 weeks of gestation from 4.76 percent to .92 percent. Through this “Early Elective Delivery Initiative,” multidisciplinary hospital teams collaborate to educate staff, patients and families about the importance of waiting to deliver until 39 weeks unless otherwise medically indicated. The initiative is based on the March of Dimes’ “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” campaign, which started in 2011.
“The increase in the number of thriving babies in Virginia is something to celebrate,” said Levine. “But we cannot rest on these victories while disparities continue to persist. Reducing rates does not happen overnight. It demands persistence, dedication and collaboration. Building upon the milestones we’ve achieved in recent years, we can achieve our goal of being the healthiest state in the nation, starting with our infants.”