LONDON — At least 2 million babies are stillborn every year, but half could be prevented if mothers had better medical care, according to researchers.
While most stillbirths happen in the developing world, the rates in countries including the United States, Britain, and France have not dropped as expected. Rising obesity levels increase the risk.
Better obstetric care and treating conditions like syphilis, high blood pressure, and diabetes in mothers could save more than 1 million infants every year, specialists say.
The research was paid for by Save the Children, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. It was published yesterday in the journal Lancet.
“It’s a scandal there are so many stillbirths that can be prevented,’’ said Joy Lawn, director of global evidence and policy at Save the Children in South Africa, who led the Lancet series.
In developing countries, most stillbirths are caused by delivery complications, infections, and congenital abnormalities. In developed countries, the reasons are often unclear.
The estimates have a wide margin of error: The numbers range between 2.1 million and 3.8 million stillbirths a year.
William Easterly, of New York University, said the numbers are based on too little information to be reliable. “It’s basically made-up data,’’ he said.
Gary Darmstadt of the Gates Foundation said it would not cost much to prevent stillbirths. “If all we did was to provide good-quality care during childbirth, at a cost of less than $1 per head, we could avert 1.4 million deaths of mothers, [babies], and stillbirths,’’ he wrote.