China ranks second in global fight to reduce stillbirths, study finds

Only the Netherlands was making faster progress in reducing number of foetal deaths, according to research in Lancet journal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 7:30am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 7:30am

China ranks second in reducing the number of stillbirths, yet the annual amount was still the fourth highest in the world, a study published today in the Lancet medical journal has found.

Last year, the country had an estimated 7.2 stillbirths – defined as a foetal death after 28 weeks of pregnancy – per 1,000 births, according to the research. More than 200 experts from around the world were involved in the study.

The rate in China was a significant drop from the 14.5 recorded in 2000. It is now falling by 4.6 per cent

a year, putting the country only second to the Netherlands in reduction.

However, the total number of stillbirths, about 122,340 last year, was still considered high.

Hong Kong recorded 167 cases last year, according to the city’s Health Ministry, although it categorises stillbirths as a foetal death after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

That translated into 2.7 cases per 1,000 births, comparable to high-performing countries in the global study. Iceland, with 1.3 cases, topped the 186 countries covered in the study.

Private obstetrician Dr Kun Ka-yan, who did not take part in the study, said Hong Kong, together with Japan and Singapore, had some of the lowest stillbirth rates in Asia.

“In advanced countries, if pregnant women have been regularly receiving preventive and antenatal care, it is hard to further improve the stillbirth rate as the causes are often unclear,” Kun said.

The latest study noted that although the average worldwide rate had decreased from 24.7 in 2000 to 18.4 last year, as many as 2.6 million cases were reported around the world annually.

Low and middle-income countries took up 98 per cent of cases, with Pakistan having the world’s highest rate, at 43.1 cases per 1,000 births.

“Half of the 2.6 million annual deaths could be prevented with improved care for women and babies during labour and childbirth,” said Professor Joy Lawn from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The message is loud and clear – shockingly slow progress on stillbirths is unacceptable,” said Lawn, who co-led the global research.

The study found the annual rate of reduction for stillbirths between 2000 and last year was 2 per cent, slower than the 3 per cent improvement for maternal death and 4.5 per cent for child death.

“If we need to improve the stillbirth situation, efforts should be done in developing countries, such as providing suitable care and having delivery in hospitals,” Kun said.

The latest research gave the first global analysis of risk factors associated with stillbirth. Obesity, diabetes and lack of family planning services, especially for older and very young pregnant women, were some of the causes.

The consequence of the loss could be huge, with at least 4.2 million women suffering from depression, distress and social isolation afterwards.