At 2.7 per 1,000 births, our stillbirth rate in 2015 was below the estimated average of 3.5 per 1,000 across the 49 countries, and well below the Ukraine, which recorded the highest stillbirth rate of 8.8 per 1,000 births. In the UK, the rate was 2.9 stillbirths per 1,000, while in France the rate was 4.7 per 1,000, with stillbirth measured at 28 weeks gestation or greater for the purpose of this study.
Iceland performed best, with a rate of just 1.3 stillbirths per 1,000.
The comparisons are contained in a paper published today as part of a global launch of “The Lancet Stillbirth Series: Ending Preventable Stillbirths”.
The authors of the paper said the proportion of unexplained stillbirths is high but can be addressed “through improvements in data collection, investigation, and classification”. They said national perinatal mortality audit programmes need to be implemented in all high-income countries, a function carried out in Ireland by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre (NPEC).
The authors said a woman from a disadvantaged background runs “twice the risk of having a stillborn child when compared to her more advantaged counterparts” in high income countries. The authors said programmes at community and country level “need to improve health in disadvantaged families to address these inequities”.
The paper shows considerable variation in the annual rate of reduction (ARR) in stillbirths across the 49 countries between 2000 and 2015. For example, eight countries showed a relatively poor ARR of less than one percent, including the USA (0.4%) while five countries achieved ARRs of more than 4%, and even reaching 6.8% in the case of the Netherlands.
The paper had multiple authors and contributors from across the globe, including Sarah Meaney and Margaret Murphy (University College Cork) and Paul Corcoran (NPEC) and Mairie Cregan (Féileacáin Cork) as members of the Lancet Stillbirths High Income Countries Investigator Group.
The authors said if all high income countries achieved stillbirth rates equal to the best performing countries, 19,439 late gestation stillbirths could have been avoided in 2015.
Approximately 2.6 million babies were stillborn in 2015. The Lancet papers show falls in stillbirth rates since 2000 are failing to keep pace with falls in childhood and maternal mortality rates.