Sacramento, CA | March 19, 2014 - California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ron Chapman accepted the March of Dimes Franklin Delano Roosevelt Prematurity Campaign Leadership award (FDR Award) today for his agency's work to reduce preterm birth rates in the state to 9.6 percent, down from a high of 10.9 percent in 2007. California - with more than 500,000 births each year - is the largest state to reach the March of Dimes goal of reducing preterm birthrates to 9.6 percent or less of total births.
"This award reflects the dedication of California state health staff, health care organizations and maternity care providers throughout the state. We congratulate them on the work they have done to help babies," says president of the March of Dimes Dr. Jennifer L. Howse.
The FDR Award is named in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes more than 75 years ago. It is given to states who have met a challenge from the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to lower their preterm birth rates to 9.6 percent between 2009 and 2014.
Only six states have met the goal to reduce rates to 9.6 percent or less: Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont. These six states were the only states to receive an "A" on the March of Dimes Preterm Birth Report Card released in November. The nation received a "C".
"We are proud to accept this award today. California is the most populous and diverse state among those receiving an 'A' grade on preterm birth rates from the March of Dimes," said Dr. Ron Chapman, California Department of Public Health director and state health officer. "This administration is committed to improving the health of Californians, and we are proud to partner with March of Dimes on quality improvement initiatives and public health interventions that make our state a model in preventing preterm birth nationally."
Health officials in California are working closely with March of Dimes staff and volunteers on the "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait" educational campaign, which urges hospitals, health care providers, and patients to follow the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines and reduce medically unnecessary elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy. The final weeks of pregnancy are crucial to a baby's health because many vital organs, including the brain and lungs, are still developing.
California's success in achieving the March of Dimes goal is noteworthy. Not only is California home to more than half a million births each year, the most of any state, it also has a racially diverse population in a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities that have a variety of healthcare and economic needs. If every state met the challenge, the United States could save $2 billion in health care and socio-economic costs each year, according to March of Dimes.
In 2011, the nation's preterm birth rate dropped to 11.7 percent, the fifth consecutive year it declined -- but still nearly half a million babies were born too soon.
Preterm birth (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy) is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine report. It is the leading cause of newborn death; more than a million babies worldwide die each year as a result of their early birth. Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifelong health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and others.
The March of Dimes encouraged states to meet its 9.6 goal through a combination of activities: giving all women of childbearing age access to health care coverage, fully implementing proven interventions to reduce the risk of an early birth, providing smoking cessation programs for pregnant women, encouraging preconception and early prenatal care, progesterone treatments for women who are medically eligible, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, avoiding elective cesarean sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary. To further accelerate progress, the March of Dimes believes it is critical to invest in highly innovative, transdisciplinary research to discover the underlying causes of preterm birth and its consequences.
"While this percentage is a marked improvement in California's preterm birth rate, we will continue our work to give all babies a healthy start in life because yearly, nearly 50,000 babies in California are still born too soon, before their lungs, brains or other organs are fully developed," said Karyn
DeMartini, State Director of the California Chapter of March of Dimes. "We will continue to work together to improve access to health care, help women quit smoking and, through our Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait consumer education campaign, encourage women and health care providers to avoid scheduling a delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary. Partnerships with our state health officials, local hospitals, and elected representatives have helped us make newborn health a priority in California and made an incredible difference in babies' lives."
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.