Western Australia leads the way in preterm birth prevention

Honourable John Day MLA, Minister for Health, Culture and the Arts, Western Australia

  • World-first program has global implications
  • Preterm birth rate reduced by eight per cent in one-year trial
  • Program aims to cut premature births by one-third

A world-first program centred on King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH) has reduced the rate of Western Australian preterm births by eight per cent in its first year of operation, setting new standards for improving newborn health outcomes.

Announcing the results today, Health Minister John Day said the reduction was a major achievement that would have an impact throughout Australia and around the globe.

“This reduction translates to about 200 babies who have been given a better chance of a healthy future,” Mr Day said.

“Leading the world in this critical area is the result of our dedicated workforce and the 34,000 women who give birth each year in our State, working towards our shared vision of delivering the best possible infant health outcomes.”

The Liberal National Government funded the trial of the WA Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative through the specialist preterm clinic at KEMH.

The world-first, whole-of-population, State-wide program was launched in late 2014, encompassing new clinical guidelines, an outreach program for health care practitioners, a public health program for women and their families, and the KEMH clinic.

“The preterm birth prevention clinic at KEMH is now part of business as usual at the hospital,” the Minister said.

“The excellence of WA health care, combined with our strong community health education systems, continue to provide us with unique opportunities in medical research.  Working together, there is much of which we should be proud.”

Mr Day acknowledged the chairman and founder of the initiative, Executive Director of the Women and Infants Research Foundation (WIRF) Professor John Newnham.

“He has enabled great and positive change, through the discovery and translation of effective new strategies and a commitment to educating health care professionals and families,” the Minister said.

“While this work is focused on reducing trauma and improving outcomes for newborns and their families, it also has the potential to deliver significant savings across the health system.”

The goal of the program is to reduce preterm births by one-third.

Fact File

  • Preterm birth is defined as birth before 37 and after 20 weeks of gestation
  • About 2,800 babies or 8-9% of WA deliveries are preterm
  • Immediate care for a newborn with a birth weight below 750 grams typically costs the WA health system $216,000
  • Care for newborns in the range of 1.5-2kg typically costs $59,000
  • KEMH is home to the largest neonatal unit in the southern hemisphere and is a centre for neonatal research
  • At KEMH, the survival rate for babies born at less than 25 weeks gestation is high, sitting at 70%
  • For babies born at more than 25 weeks gestation, the survival rate is more than 90%
  • Premature birth complications can include breathing and temperature regulation difficulties, asthma, gastrointestinal problems and increased infection risk
  • Babies born preterm are also at increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Reducing preterm birth by a state-wide multifaceted program – an implementation study’ can be viewed online at The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology http://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S0002937816320634

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