Premature survival rates high, says expert


Ireland has among the best rates of survival for premature babies in the world, according to the head of the HSE’s programme for newborn babies.

Paediatrician Dr John Murphy said some 83 per cent of babies born under 1.5kg (three pounds, five ounces) survive in Ireland.

The international average is 84-90 per cent, with the best rates in the world being in Scandinavian countries.

Dr Murphy said the slightly lower survival rates in Ireland had to be seen in the context of the lack of abortion here, which means that many malformed babies who may have been aborted in other countries are born in Ireland.

Ireland has one of the lowest prematurity rates in the world with an average of six per 100 babies born before 37 weeks. The average in the United States is 12 per 100.

“Good antenatal care is very important and is a factor that seems to make the difference in terms of prematurity rates,” he said.

In relation to the case of Savita Halappanavar, Dr Murphy said he was not an obstetrician but the high survival rates for the most vulnerable babies showed that Ireland was internationally respected as a safe country in which to have a child.

Dr Murphy, clinical lead of the HSE neonatology (newborns) programme, said the higher rates of prematurity in the United States may be the result of poor antenatal care for women who cannot afford proper monitoring of the foetus.

A national model of care for neonatology is being developed in Ireland.

Dr Murphy said Ireland’s neonatology (post birth) programme had been “hugely successful” with the numbers of babies who are stillborn or who die soon after birth going from 60 per 1,000 in the 1960s to 5.3 per 1,000 today.

In the past two decades the outer limits of viability for babies has declined from 28 weeks to 24 weeks. About half the babies born at 24 weeks survive.