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Building a global policy agenda to prioritize preterm birth: A qualitative analysis on factors shaping global health policymaking.


Background: Preterm birth, defined as infants born before 37 weeks of gestation, is the largest contributor to child mortality. Despite new evidence highlighting the global burden of prematurity, policymakers have failed to adequately prioritize preterm birth despite the magnitude of its health impacts. Given current levels of political attention and investment, it is unlikely that the global community will be adequately mobilized to meet the 2012 Born Too Soon report goal of reducing the preterm birth rate by 50% by 2025. Methods: This study adapts the Shiffman and Smith framework for political priority to examine four components contributing to policy action in global health: actor power, ideas, political context, and issue characteristics. We conducted key informant interviews with 18 experts in prematurity and reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) and reviewed key literature on preterm birth. We aimed to identify the factors that shape the global political priority of preterm birth and to describe policy opportunities to increase its priority moving forward. Results: The global preterm birth community (academic researchers, multilateral organizations, government agencies, and civil society organizations) lacks evidence about the causes of and solutions to preterm birth; and country-level data quality is poor with gaps in the understanding required for implementing effective interventions. Limited funding compounds these challenges, creating divisions among experts on what policy actions to recommend. These factors contribute to the lack of priority and underrepresentation of preterm birth within the larger RMNCH agenda. Conclusion: Increasing the political priority of prematurity is essential to reduce preventable newborn and child mortality, a key target of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal for health (target 3.2). This study identifies three policy recommendations for the preterm birth community: address data and evidence gaps, clarify and invest in viable solutions, and bring visibility to prematurity within the larger RMNCH agendas.

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