Council member sheds light on high premature birth rate

As part of a collaborative effort to reduce the number of premature births, the city council adopted a proclamation recognizing Nov. 17 as World Prematurity Day in the City of Clovis. (Daniel Leon/Clovis Roundup)

For many Valley residents, the topic of premature birth hits close to home, with so many knowing a child, or at least knowing of a child, born before 37 weeks gestation. The challenges these small newborns face are not secrets, many have to fight hard for their little lives and some even suffer adverse health effects of being born early that they will carry with them well into adulthood.

While prematurity clearly impacts individual babies and their families, Clovis council member Lynne Ashbeck, who leads a collaborative on preterm birth as part of her day job, let her fellow council members and the community know at a Nov. 13 meeting that preterm birth has a larger effect on the entire community.

Shockingly, Ashbeck said Fresno County has the highest rate in California for preterm birth, with higher instances of preterm birth in the region than some countries in Africa. Fresno County also has the highest infant mortality rate—babies dying before age one (1)—in the state. Even more devastating, 40 percent of these births take place within a two-mile radius of downtown Fresno, within walking distance of Fresno Community Regional Medical Center.

“Clovis does have its share, though not anywhere near the number in Fresno, but it is important to remember as a community the cost of a preterm baby is something that we all share and it may not be in our own family, but it’s in our hospitals and our schools,” Ashbeck said.

With the staggering statistics in mind, Ashbeck introduced the 10-year collaborative she is a part of, which is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund $100 million over the next 10 years, to aid Fresno, greater San Francisco/Oakland, and three countries in Africa, in reducing the number of preterm births in the community.

As part of the effort, the collaborative recognizes Nov. 17 as World Prematurity Day, and the council made adopted a proclamation recognizing that day as World Prematurity Day in the city of Clovis.

Premature births threaten the lives and health of 15 million babies around the world every year and is the leading cause of death among newborns. Fresno County has one of the highest rates of premature births in California, with one in every nine babies in Fresno County born prematurely. The Fresno County Preterm Birth Initiative is a collaborative effort to reduce the number of babies born prematurely from 11.1 percent to 7 percent—a 4 percent reduction—by 2025.