$5.8 million in funding to expand national program

The Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance has welcomed the announcement of $5.8 million in Federal Government funding to expand Australia’s world-first national program to safely reduce rates of preterm and early term birth.
The announcement, made today by as part of the 2024-25 Federal Budget, continues the Commonwealth’s commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Australian women, mothers and their babies.

Chair of the Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance, Professor John Newnham AM, said the continuation of funding would enable the Commonwealth-funded Every Week Counts National Preterm Birth Prevention Collaborative, to improve pregnancy outcomes for more women across the country.

“The funding of $5.8 million over two years from 2024-25 will allow us to expand the program to include 90% of all public hospital births and significantly amplify the positive impact this program has had to-date with particular emphasis on First Nations communities.”

Professor Newnham explained that it had been inspiring to see the amazing work being done by the hospital teams participating in the Collaborative.

“These teams have generously shared ideas, know-how and data with each other on how to support more women to safely continue their pregnancy to 39 weeks.”

Rates of potentially harmful early birth have been rising across Australia and similar countries, leading to serious health and development implications for children including cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and learning and behavioural problems.

As part of a special showcase event held for the Collaborative in the Great Hall, Parliament House, on 19 March 2024, was the announcement of the early results from this world-first program.

“The latest data from the program on rates of early term birth suggest a reduction of at least 10%, which equates to 4,000 fewer children each year being at increased risk of behavioural and learning problems at school age,” he said.

National data published by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare show preterm rates have fallen by 6% since the Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance began its work in 2018, representing 1,700 fewer babies each year and an estimated annual government saving of $90 million.

“Australia is on-track to become the world’s first nation to strategically and safely lower its rate of untimely and harmful early birth.” Professor John Newnham said.

The figures on early term birth rates are yet to be published in a medical journal with final data on the program available later in 2024.

Seven key clinical strategies have been used to safely lower the rate of preterm and early term birth.

The strategies include avoiding ending pregnancies before 39 weeks gestation, prescribing vaginal progesterone to women with a shortened cervix or a history of spontaneous preterm birth, promoting the importance of continuity of care, and strongly discouraging smoking whilst pregnant.

Read more about the 2024-25 Federal Budget’s broader investment into women’s health here.