As we usher in 2015, we want to take the opportunity to reflect on the global burden of preterm birth and stillbirth, and also highlight what GAPPS has been working on in its quest to ease those burdens.
In 2014, new data were published showing that preterm birth has now become the leading cause of death for all children under 5 worldwide. In addition, nearly 3 million babies were stillborn last year. These sobering statistics underscore that it has never been more important to research preterm birth and stillbirth and discover new ways to prevent them.
We know that solving problems as large as prematurity and stillbirth are long-term endeavors, but we are very encouraged with the progress made last year and the increasing attention paid to these issues. Please read through for highlights of GAPPS’ work in 2014 and progress made toward making every birth a healthy birth.
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Preventing Preterm Birth Initiative
The Preventing Preterm Birth initiative (PPB), a Grand Challenge in Global Health funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by GAPPS, seeks to discover biological mechanisms that lead to preterm births and develop novel interventions to prevent them. In March, GAPPS announced it was funding two international pregnancy research centers – in Bangladesh and Zambia – to enroll women early in pregnancy and collect information and biological specimens during pregnancy and delivery. These data and specimens will be used to advance innovative research into the causes of preterm birth and identify novel strategies for prevention. The PPB has already funded seven investigators, who will now be able to use the data and samples from these research centers for their projects.
In addition, GAPPS issued a new request for proposals, focusing on a systems biology approach to pregnancy and prematurity. We received an incredible response from investigators around the world, once again proving there is a strong demand to research preterm birth, and we will be announcing new grantees in the coming year.
Every Preemie – Scaling, Catalyzing, Advocating, Learning, Evidence-driven (SCALE)
A strategic partnership among Project Concern International, GAPPS, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives has been formed to support USAID’s global effort to reduce newborn mortality by preventing and managing preterm birth and low birth weight complications. Every Preemie is a $9 million, five-year award from USAID to expand evidence-based and underutilized preterm birth and low birth weight interventions in 24 priority countries across Africa and Asia. GAPPS will work to provide technical assistance in the identification and implementation of evidence-based interventions that can be successfully implemented at scale to save lives.
Click here for a list (pdf) of publications from all GAPPS staff in 2014.
The GAPPS Repository is a biobank of pregnancy specimens and data available to researchers investigating adverse pregnancy outcomes. In 2014, the Repository surpassed 60,000 biological aliquots and is increasing by nearly 2,000 aliquots per month. There has been unprecedented interest from researchers looking to access the Repository for their studies, and we’re excited that it’s enabling research that would otherwise be much more costly and time-consuming.
The Repository also made publicly available its Standard Operating Procedures, Data Dictionary, and Consent Template, in an effort to facilitate standardized terminology, consent, collection, processing and storage across similar biobanks and research studies. We’ve seen a strong demand for the materials, and you can access them here.
Global Coalition to Advance Preterm birth Research (GCAPR)
Announced in August, GCAPR is a partnership initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the March of Dimes Foundation and GAPPS. The purpose of the coalition is to bring together organizations that fund research into preterm birth and related fields to improve visibility, investment and information sharing to accelerate research efforts. Sixteen institutions have already signed on as members of the Coalition, which will advance needed research into the field of preterm birth, a blueprint of which was detailed in The Lancet Global Health in December 2013. GAPPS serves as the Secretariat of GCAPR, convening public, private, and non-profit organizations.
In November, Science Translational Medicine published a GAPPS-authored state-of-the-art review titled “Prevention of Preterm Birth: Harnessing Science to Address the Global Epidemic.” The paper highlighted the startling lack of knowledge about what causes preterm birth and how to prevent it, outlined promising areas of research, and called for a larger, coordinated research effort to discover how to identify women at risk of preterm birth and develop prevention interventions.
Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP)
GAPPS contributed to the creation and development of the ENAP, a roadmap for change that takes forward the United Nations Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health by focusing specific attention on newborn health and identifying actions for improving their survival, health and development. The plan was led by WHO and UNICEF, launched at the Partner’s Forum in Johannesburg and was approved by the World Health Assembly. The plan outlines specific newborn survival goals to be met by 2035 and was accompanied by new financial, policy and private sector commitments.
New Deputy Director
In September we announced Eve Lackritz, MD, as the new Deputy Director of GAPPS. She spent more than 20 years at the CDC and had more recently served as a consultant to GAPPS. In her new role, Dr. Lackritz supports the development, implementation and evaluation of GAPPS programs, including management, delivery and assessment of innovative research, treatment, prevention and educational initiatives intended to reduce and eliminate prematurity and stillbirth. We are thrilled to have her on board in this important position.
Thank you for your continued support of GAPPS and commitment to solving some of the most challenging global health issues facing the world today. We hope you are encouraged by the highlights above, and ask that you continue to walk with us as we seek to make every birth a healthy birth.
A special thank you goes to all the members of the Stillborn Still Loved Guild and the Tiny Footprints Guild. Their ongoing efforts to raise awareness and money to support our work deserve special recognition.
If you would like to contribute to GAPPS and our work to prevent prematurity and stillbirth, you can do so here.
Craig E. Rubens, MD, PhD
Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS)