EFELondon

Every year 2.6 million stillbirths are recorded globally owing to poor progress in its prevention, says a study Tuesday by British medical journal, The Lancet.

Although maternal and infant mortality has reduced significantly, there have not been much progress in arresting stillbirth.

The study shows the annual rate of reduction of stillbirths is two percent, much lower than the drop in maternal deaths (3%) and infant deaths (4.5%).

It adds half of all stillbirths occur during delivery, usually following a nine-month pregnancy, according to the study titled 'Ending Preventable Stillbirth.'

Ninety-eight percent of stillbirths worldwide take place in low and middle income countries, although it is also a substantial problem in high income countries, where stillbirths exceed infant deaths.

The study also exposed the "hidden" consequences of stillbirths, with over 4.2 million women showing symptoms of depression, frequently lasting for years, besides economic setbacks for families as well as countries.

"We must give a voice to the mothers of 7,200 babies stillborn around the world every day," said lead author Joy Lawn from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, or LSHTM.

He added "there is a common misperception that many of the deaths are inevitable" although the study shows most of these deaths are preventable.

He added half of the 2.6 million annual deaths could be prevented by improving mother and child care during delivery and by enhancing antenatal care.

Meanwhile, new data from LSHTM, the World Health Organization and UNICEF show enormous inequalities worldwide, with India topping the list in the number of stillbirths with 592,100 cases recorded in 2015.

Pakistan fares the worst with 43.1 cases per 1000 births, with Nigeria closely following at 42.9, while Iceland has the lowest at 1.3 and Denmark and Finland 1.7 each.

Netherlands, at 1.8, has shown the fastest progress in preventing stillbirths, bringing it down 6.8 percent annually, while the United States is one of the developed nations where progress is the slowest with an annual reduction of just 0.4 percent.

The study also examines risk factors associated with stillbirths and says many deaths could be averted by treating infections during pregnancy; for instance, 8 percent stillbirths are attributed to malaria in sub-Saharan Africa while 7.7 percent is related to syphilis.

Other ways to combat the phenomenon include eradication of global epidemics, including obesity and hypertension, improving access to family planning services especially for older and very young women, and tackling income disparity in different countries.