Rhode Island one of six states to receive the prestigious Virginia Apgar Award

The March of Dimes presented Rhode Island with its Virginia Apgar Prematurity
Campaign Leadership Award at a ceremony this morning for the state’s dramatic
reduction in the rate of preterm births, a health issue closely tied to brain, lung,
hearing, and vision issues in newborns.

Rhode Island’s preterm birth rate fell from 9.6% in 2010 to 8.6% in 2015, a 10%
drop. The national preterm birth average for 2015 was 9.6%.

“We are pleased to recognize the commitment, leadership, and collaboration required
to reduce the rate of prematurity in Rhode Island. We are fully aware of the
complexity of this issue and applaud the state for its notable accomplishment,” said
Jordana Frost, Maternal and Child Health Director for the March of Dimes in Rhode
Island.

Despite Rhode Island’s progress in reducing its preterm birth rate, disparities
still exist. For example, the preterm birth rate among African Americans was 11.4%
and it was 9.7% among Latinos. The preterm birth rate among white Rhode Islanders
was 8.4%. Nationally, the preterm birth rate among African American women (13%) was
about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm births among white women (9%).

“This award is a testament to the incredible commitment and collaboration that
exists throughout Rhode Island among OB-GYNs and other healthcare providers,
healthcare facilities, insurers, the Rhode Island Department of Health and other
state agencies, community groups, the Rhode Island Task Force on Premature Births,
and so many others,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode
Island Department of Health. “Moving forward, we need to narrow our focus even more
on preterm birth disparities, including those based on race, ethnicity, city or town
of residence, and insurance status. Every single baby in Rhode Island absolutely
deserves an equal opportunity to have as healthy a start as possible, and to be on a
trajectory that will allow them to thrive through childhood and beyond.”

“The Rhode Island Task Force on Premature Births includes a variety of groups and
projects all aimed at ameliorating various adverse situations that can contribute to
preterm birth,” said Katharine Wenstrom, MD, chair of the Rhode Island Task Force on
Premature Births, director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Women &
Infants Hospital, and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert
Medical School of Brown University. “Some are local grass roots projects, some are
sponsored by local agencies, and some are headed by the Rhode Island Department of
Health, but all are focused on working together in collaboration to share energy and
resources, to be as effective as we can be in reducing the preterm birth rate in
Rhode Island.”

A preterm birth is when labor that starts too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy,
giving the baby less time to develop in the womb. Preterm babies may have more
health problems or need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born at full
term. Specific complications include breathing problems, low blood pressure,
bleeding in the brain, and anemia.

The preterm birth rate in the United States decreased from 2007 to 2014. This
decline was in part due to declines in the number of births to teens and young
mothers. Data indicate a slight increase in the national preterm birth rate from
2014 to 2015.

The Rhode Island Task Force on Premature Births has been working to address preterm
births since 2006, when Rhode Island’s preterm birth rate was 12.5%. The work of the
Task Force includes expanding access to contraception and working to reduce multiple
pregnancies by assisted reproductive technology, which is a major risk factor for
preterm births. Other risk factors include an interval of less than six months
between pregnancies, smoking cigarettes, using illicit drugs, poor nutrition,
stressful life events, and other social and environmental factors.

Another major focus on the Rhode Island Task Force on Premature Births is addressing
barriers to access to 17-hydroxyprogesterone, which is also known as 17P. 17P is an
evidence-based intervention to help prevent recurrent preterm birth. Barriers to
access to 17P include cost, insurance coverage, and availability.

The six other states or territories to receive the Virginia Apgar Prematurity
Campaign Leadership Award are Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico,
and Virginia.