Medical Professional Publications

A Research Approach to Preventing Preterm Birth Focused on What Works

(From the November/December issue of Inside Nationwide Children's)

Ohio has the second largest Somali community in the country, with an estimated 45,000+ Somalis who have arrived in waves as refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war.



Did You Know?

  • Preterm birth affects nearly half a million babies each year in the US.
  • One out of every eight babies in Ohio is born preterm—that’s more than 15,000 a year.
  • Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death and increases a premature baby’s risk of lifetime health challenges, such as vision and breathing problems.  

African American women are twice as likely as women from any other racial or ethnic background to deliver a preterm baby. This racial disparity is well documented, but not well understood, and is not dependent on access to health care, behavior, education, or socioeconomic status.

There is, however, a minority population of African descent with a notably low rate of preterm birth, as low as or lower than white women—Somalis.

Why is this group the exception? That is what a multi-disciplinary team led by Dr. Irina Buhimschi,director of the Center for Perinatal Research,intends to find out. Because identifying what makes Somali women less susceptible to preterm birth will help develop strategies to improve outcomes for African American, and all, women. That is the positive deviance approach: to study what works so it can be replicated.

“We believe a variety of genetic, environmental and social factors are involved in preterm. From stress and resilience, to diet and lifestyle, to vaginal and gut bacteria, we will comprehensively study why Somali women have lower rates of preterm birth. Our hope is to develop an evidence-based plan of action for lowering rates of preterm birth in other populations,” said Dr. Buhimschi.

This study is one of five funded by a March of Dimes’ $10 million grant entirely dedicated to research into the causes of preterm birth.

Partners in this research collaborative include Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital; and MetroHealth System.

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