The study of several agencies * of the United Nations system, which defines a stillbirth as a baby born without vital signs during the 28th week of pregnancy or later, indicates that last year three out of four of these cases occurred in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, described the loss of a child at birth or during pregnancy as a “devastating tragedy for a family” and added that it is a sorrow that is “often borne in silence” and whose scope is worldwide.
“Every 16 seconds, a mother somewhere will suffer the indescribable tragedy of giving birth to a stillborn. Beyond the loss of life, the psychological and financial costs for women, families and societies are serious and long-lasting ”, he added.
According to Fore, this should not happen since most cases of stillbirth “could be avoided with high-quality monitoring, adequate prenatal care, and a trained midwife”.
UNICEF / Rahani Kaur
COVID-19, an additional risk
“More than 40% of stillbirths occur during childbirth, a loss that could be avoided by having a trained health worker during delivery and in proper emergency obstetric care. About half of stillbirths in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South Asia occur during labor, compared to 6% in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, ”the report highlights.
This situation could be further aggravated by COVID-19. If the pandemic cuts health services in half, it could cause nearly 200,000 additional cases of stillbirth over a 12-month period in 117 low- and middle-income countries.
Stillbirth does not only happen in poor countries
In 2019, 39 high-income countries had a higher number of stillbirths than neonatal deaths, and in 15 nations these cases exceeded that of infant deaths.
The study indicates that one of the greatest factors of inequality in high-income countries is the mother’s level of education and that stillbirth rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas, in the latter case, without difference in the type of income level in the country
“For example, in Nepal, low-caste women had stillbirth rates between 40% and 60% higher than higher-caste women.”
Similarly, ethnic minorities in high-income countries often lack access to adequate health care. The report notes that African-American women in the United States are at nearly twice the risk of stillbirth than white women.