New study: more women at risk of preterm labour should receive corticosteroids

The findings of a new WHO study, just published by The Lancet, show that many more newborn lives could be saved through the effective use of antenatal (during pregnancy) corticosteroids in order to reduce respiratory distress syndrome (due to underdeveloped lungs) and cerebroventricular haemorrhage (bleeding in the ventricles of the brain) in premature babies.

Among countries in the WHO European Region, between 4 and 15% of live births are preterm. This treatment is most effective when given to women at risk of preterm delivery between 26 and 34 weeks of pregnancy. Yet the global study reveals that only 52% of women in the 29 countries studied received corticosteroids.

The use of corticosteroids is part of a package of interventions that should be more widely understood and made available to health professionals to improve newborn health and reduce infant mortality. Programme managers from several European countries will take part in a meeting later this month in Slovenia to discuss the use of WHO recommendations to inform policy-making in maternal and newborn health, as well as to improve clinical processes. Preventing respiratory problems in premature babies is one of the agenda items.