A Q&A with Wanda D. Barfield, MD, MPH, FAAP – Director of CDC's Division of Reproductive Health
On May 21 to 22, the March of Dimes convened a Prematurity Prevention Summit that focused on building a birth equity movement. The summit brought together thought leaders to accomplish several key objectives, including advancing policy and practice, mobilizing community leadership, sharing and spreading emerging ideas, and energizing stakeholders to achieve equity and reduce preterm birth.
Rear Admiral Wanda D. Barfield, co-chair of the steering committee for the Prematurity Campaign Collaborative, provided her perspective on the summit and what it means for the field of maternal and child health.
Could you talk about the key topics addressed at the Prematurity Collaborative Summit?
We are at a pivotal moment in time for addressing disparities in preterm births in the U.S. The preterm birth rate has been on the rise for three straight years – and it's been increasing among all racial and ethnic groups.
Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant mortality. And the babies who do survive can have short- and long-term health problems. These health problems take a toll on families – emotionally and financially – that can be hard to quantify.
That's why the work of the Prematurity Collaborative is so vital. The collaborative features more than 300 leading maternal and child health organizations and 500 individuals from across the country, including parents and community groups. The goal is to foster communities in which all newborns, no matter what their race or where they are born, can get the healthiest start to life possible.
The Prematurity Prevention Summit gave us an opportunity to celebrate the work of the collaborative so far, to bring new organizations and individuals into the fold, to present opportunities for action, and to motivate participants to take action to reduce preterm births in their communities.
By working together, we can achieve the goal of equity and demonstrated improvements in preterm birth.
What do you think the impact of the summit will be?
The Summit was very action-oriented. Participants learned about reducing preterm births from national, state, local, and community perspectives. People went back into their communities feeling inspired and ready to make change – and they were given tools, resources, and connections from the collaborative to help make positive changes possible.
What are some next strategic steps for carrying the ideas discussed at the summit forward?
Connecting people and getting them working together through a collaborative can be an effective way to move forward. Members of the collaborative will have access to one another for ideas, and to tools and resources that can help them in their communities. This Summit helped set a solid framework that participants can take back to their own communities. Only by working together can we improve outcomes for babies in our own communities and across the nation.
One of the most important steps forward is to tear down any siloes and work together collectively. We can't make real impact if we don't work together. It's going to require open, regular communication between public health professionals, health care providers, hospital systems and administrators, community organizations, decision-makers, parents, and others if we want to make a positive change.