LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Little progress has been made in
improving the long-term health of extremely premature babies,
and with pre-term births on the rise across Europe, rates of
serious disability are likely to increase, doctors said on
A decade of advances in medicine mean more babies born at
between 22 and 26 weeks gestation manage to survive, but rates
of severe health complications remain as high as they were in
1995, according to research by neonatal specialists in Britain.
The findings of two separate studies published in the
British Medical Journal suggest the number of children and
adults with disabilities caused by premature birth will rise in
Babies born before 27 weeks of gestation - 13 weeks before
they would be considered full term - face a battle for survival.
Many of those who do survive face problems such as lung
conditions, learning difficulties and cerebral palsy.
Rates of premature birth are rising in many European
countries and are particularly high in Britain and the United
"As the number of children that survive pre-term birth
continues to rise, so will the number who experience disability
throughout their lives," said Neil Marlow, of University College
London's Institute for Women's Health, who worked on both
studies and presented the results at a briefing in London.
He said this was "likely to have an impact on the demand for
health, education and social care services."
The two studies, led by Marlow and Kate Costeloe of Queen
Mary, University of London, compared a group of babies born in
the UK between 22 and 26 weeks' gestation in 2006 with those
born between 22 and 25 weeks over a 10-month period in 1995.
The first one looked at the immediate survival rates and the
health - until they went home from hospital - of extremely
premature babies born in 2006 and compared them with 1995 rates.
Researchers found the number of babies born at 22 to 25
weeks and admitted to intensive care increased by 44 percent
during this period. The number of babies who survived long
enough to go home from hospital increased by 13 percent.
There was no significant increase in survival of babies born
before 24 weeks - the current legal limit for abortion in
Britain - and the number of babies who had major health
complications was unchanged over the decade.
Costeloe said what while survival rates for babies born at
less than 27 weeks gestation were moving in the "right
direction", there was still room for improvement.
"We can't be complacent, because the fact of the matter is,
that in 2006 if at this gestation you were alive at the end of
the first week, you had no greater chance of going home (from
hospital) than you would have done had you managed to survive
the first week of life in 1995."
The second study looked at the health of the 2006 babies
when at three years old and compared this with 1995. It found
that while 11 percent more babies survived to three without
disabilities the proportion of survivors born between 22 and 25
weeks with severe disability was about the same - at 18 percent
in 1995 and 19 percent in 2006.
The researchers also found a link between gestational age
and the risk of disability, with babies born earlier more likely
to have serious health complications at three years of age.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Rosalind Russell)