Establishing a Shared Language to Accelerate Understanding

Meaningful research relies on abundant and accurate data, and the ability to compare research results from a variety of studies. However, preterm birth definitions vary between researchers, and even differ between national health administrations. In many countries, preterm births are inaccurately recorded or never reported, in part due to a lack of a shared terminology.

The importance of a standard language for preterm birth was identified as a priority by stakeholders at the 2009 International Conference on Prematurity and Stillbirth convened by GAPPS. As a result, GAPPS organized an international team of investigators led by Dr. Jose Villar at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, to establish a shared global preterm birth classification system. The group wrote three manuscripts presenting the conceptual issues behind the new classification and guidelines for the use of the unified classification system.

“Preterm birth is a complex condition with different causal factors. Without clearly defining the different subgroups and their causes it has been very difficult to identify effective preventive strategies and treatments,” said Dr. Villar, MD, senior fellow in perinatal medicine, INTERGROWTH-21st, Oxford. “In our previous studies, we attempted to consolidate all preterm birth into a single category rather than define specific subgroups. As a result we may have abandoned some true silver bullets that were only good for some mothers but not for others; our target was too wide. We hope to reach that specificity with the new classification.”

INTERGROWTH-21st Webinar from Maternal Health Task Force on Vimeo.


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