Update on the Progress of Stillbirth
Long a champion of the fight against SIDS, the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) - a Branch of the National Institute of Health in Washington DC - is at long last turning its attention to stillbirth. Depending upon the source of the data used, stillbirth, which claims between 26,000 and 39,000 babies every year - most at or near full term - remains one of the last great mysteries of obstetrics.
Only about 40% of stillbirths can be attributed to a specific cause; the rest are categorized as "unknown". And yet babies, like adults, die for a reason. The problem is that the reason is not known in the majority of cases. Not knowing the reason means there can be no preventative. Not knowing leaves parents without closure and poses concerns for subsequent pregnancies. And yet, that hopefully is about to change.
NICHD, which helped promote the "Back to Sleep" campaign for SIDS, has been responsible for a 50% reduction in SIDS deaths during the past decade. It is precisely because of this success that they are now able to turn their attention to stillbirth. That and the fact that parents are demanding answers.
On March 26th of this year NICHD held a workshop in Washington to set a national agenda for stillbirth research. In the workshop they acknowledged there is currently no significant funding for research into the etiology and/or pathogenesis of stillbirth. They further pointed out that nationally no data are collected on the causes of fetal death prior to delivery, although 40 states do use a code for age and cause of death.
The agenda formulated by this workshop includes the following:
Improvement of record keeping and reporting in each state
Adoption of a standard postmortem protocol for stillbirths
Research into the actual causes in the deaths of stillborn babies and causal factors to decrease the risk of future stillbirths
Areas that were explored at the meeting were:
Increased awareness of the stillbirth problem for the general public
Dissemination of perinatal loss bereavement resources
An initiative to stimulate research into stillbirth has been submitted for the FY 2003 planning process at NICHD. In the Center for Research for Mothers and Children, this was the number one initiative sent forth. That so many branches agreed that this is an important topic to receive top priority is very exciting.
MISS, represented by member Richard Olsen, has met with Dr. Duane Alexander, Director of NICHD and Drs. Cathy Spong and Marian Willinger, both of whom will be assigned to the stillbirth research effort. At that meeting Richard learned that NICHD is also hiring a third team member, another physician, to join the stillbirth group.
MISS has taken an initiative to intervene in the Congressional budgeting process, with the support of NICHD and our own Congressman Bob Stump, to include a research mandate in the FY2002 NICHD budget that is very near approval. It remains to be seen if the recent events in Washington will interfere with this action item.