Letter: Research into premature births

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The Independent Online
Sir: We are distressed by the handling by the media of the report by the Office of Health Economics about premature births.

This is a well-researched report, outlining the causes of premature births, the neonatal consequences, and the largely futile therapies for trying to prevent its occurrence. The main thrust of the report, and indeed its conclusion, is that 'the difficulties in eradicating social inequality underline the importance of more research to establish the causes of preterm birth, and in understanding the causes, to work towards reducing the incidence'. The section on costs of neonatal care, both directly to the health service and indirectly in terms of human suffering, are only a small part of the report and are entirely appropriate.

The rate of premature birth has not changed significantly in this country over the past 30 years, although thanks to improvements in neonatal intensive care, survival rates have. As neonatologists gain more experience of helping these tiny babies to survive, the rate of handicap is likely to fall. However, we are still largely ignorant about the reasons for the onset of premature labour, and the causes of pregnancy-related diseases such as pre-eclampsia, which force obstetricians to intervene in the pregnancy prematurely for the sake of the health of the mother.

It is a sad reflection on our cognitive processes and society's thirst for scandal, that instead of heeding the message that we need to strive to find ways of preventing premature delivery, we vilify the author, Jane Griffin, because she dared to mention the health economics of saving these tiny lives.

We at Tommy's Campaign - the national charity raising pounds 5m to fund a research centre on foetal health - are grateful to her for presenting the facts so clearly, and pointing the way forward.

Yours faithfully,


Tommy's Campaign

St Thomas' Hospital

London, SE1

29 January