October 16, 2015

ATLANTA - The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is being recognized for lowering the state’s preterm birth rate, giving more babies a healthy start in life and earning the March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award. Julie Zaharatos, March of Dimes Director of Program Services & Government Affairs presented the award to Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald at the Board of Public Health meeting.

Georgia’s preterm birth rate dropped to 12.6 percent in 2014, down from 13.8 percent in 2009.

Preterm birth is the number one killer of babies. Babies who survive an early birth often have lifelong health problems such as cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, and intellectual disabilities. Even infants born just a few weeks early have a greater risk of respiratory distress syndrome, feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice and delayed brain development than full-term babies.

The Virginia Apgar Award recognizes states that accept and meet a challenge from the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to lower their preterm birth rates at least 8 percent between 2009 and 2014. The award is named in honor of Virginia Apgar, M.D., who developed the five-point APGAR score to evaluate an infant’s health at birth, and who served as vice president for medical affairs of the March of Dimes. 

“This award is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of health care professionals in maternal and newborn care, and health care organizations throughout our state,” says Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner, Georgia Department of Public Health.  

The March of Dimes says progress in lowering preterm birth rates came through bold leadership and the implementation of programs and policies by DPH, hospitals and health care providers, as well as a more accurate method of measuring pregnancy length recently adopted by the National Center for Health Statistics.

“This progress shows that when infant health becomes a leadership priority, significant progress is possible and families and babies benefit,” says Dr. Paul E. Jarris, executive director of ASTHO. 

"We congratulate Georgia on the work they have done to give babies a fighting chance,” says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “We know we have still have work to do, but Georgia’s progress is encouraging and because of efforts such as theirs one day every baby will get a healthy start in life.”