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Stillbirths: the invisible public health problem

April 25, 2011

Some 2.6 million third-trimester stillbirths worldwide occur every year, according to the first comprehensive set of stillbirth estimates, just published within a special series prompted by the World Health Organization in the medical journal The Lancet.

Each day more than 7,300 babies are born dead. A death occurs just when parents expect to welcome a new life. 

“The death of a baby to stillbirth is devastating to families, and we haven’t done enough, historically, to understand its etiology,” said Joanne Cacciatore, assistant professor and researcher on the psychological effects of stillbirth in the School of Social Work at ASU and President and Founder of the MISS Foundation, an international organization that cares for families facing infant and child death.

Kathy Sandler, executive drector for the MISS Foundation, notes that “the MISS Foundation understands first-hand how traumatic the death of a baby is for families. ... We’ve been spearheading efforts to pass legislation on how stillbirths are recorded – and how these mothers are treated in the process – in the U.S. and have been successful in 27 states.”

Yet, according to experts, the number of stillbirths can be slashed. Besides lacking visibility, the issue of stillbirth has lacked leadership both locally and internationally. 

“The time has come for this public health problem to be recognized, explored, and eventually to reduce the numbers,” said Cacciatore, referencing her participation in the first of The Lancet articles titled, "Stillbirth: Why it matters."

“This is a clarion call for attention to a much-underserved group,” Cacciatore said.

“Parental groups must join with professional organizations to bring a unified message on stillbirths to government agencies and the UN,” said J. Frederik Frøen, epidemiologist at The Norwegian Institute of Public Health and member of the International Stillbirth Alliance.

“This Series shows that the way to address the problem of stillbirth is to strengthen existing maternal, newborn and child health programs by focusing on key interventions, which often overlap with those interventions that benefit mothers and neonates,” said Gary L. Darmstadt, director of the Family Health Division, Global Health Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The WHO has worked in collaboration with worldwide stakeholders to develop the first comprehensive, global set of stillbirth data by region.

For more information on the MISS Foundation visit

Dana Berchman
Media & Communications, College of Public Programs