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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Solving the Problem of Premature Birth: An Interview with Trina Ragain from March of Dimes

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Rebecca Smith
/
KBIA

Premature birth is a problem throughout the nation including here in Missouri. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2014, it affected about 1 in 10 infants.

Rebecca Smith, from the KBIA Health and Wealth Desk, sat down with Trina Ragain, the State Director of Program Services for the Missouri March of Dimes to discuss the problem.

Why don’t you start of today by telling me a little bit about the March of Dimes? What the organization is? How long it’s been around? And the purpose of the organization?

So the organization was formed in 1938 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At the time, an epidemic of polio was sweeping the nation and there was no end in sight. There were no vaccines or treatments at the time, and so the March of Dimes originally formed as the National Foundation on Infantile Paralysis. You know, a name that really easily rolls off the tongue.
We got to the point where there were no more polio cases in the United States and, at that point, they had been so successful that they really didn’t want to just close the doors. And so they initially starting focusing on birth defects and in later years added infant mortality and preterm birth to the mission of the March of Dimes. So those are the three areas that we still focus on to this day.
In terms of our programming initiatives here in the state of Missouri, in the communities, we're really focusing on preterm birth and infant mortality. I think what has made preterm birth stand out is it effects so many families. 1 in every 10 babies in the United States is born preterm.

 You guys obviously do lot of research around these topics. Can you walk me through what your research looks like?

So you can really break up the work that March of Dimes does into the acronym CARES. So we have Community, Advocacy, Research, Education and Support.
March of Dimes funds more research into the causes of preterm birth than any other organization except the National Institute of Health. So it is a significant portfolio we have looking at preterm birth, and in just the last couple of years we've started funding premature research centers across the United States. There are five in total. The first one was at Stanford University and we're lucky enough that we have one here in Missouri at Washington University.

Do you think there has been one most important research breakthrough when it comes to preterm births so far?

Probably the thing that sticks out the most in my mind is surfactant therapy, which was developed about 20 years ago. And it used to be one of the causes of death for these preterm babies. They were born with immature lungs and they struggled to breathe after birth. A researcher out of California, under a March of Dimes grant, developed surfactant therapy. And the surfactant is injected kind of down into the babies' lungs after birth to essentially help them breathe easier.

What are the major issues that babies born pre-term face? 

I think it is a really complex issue, and it really is an issue that impacts the whole community and the whole family. When you are in a NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] you will see the stress that it causes for a family to have a baby in the NICU. It is a very stressful time. It has a huge financial impact on families, on businesses. It is a $26 billion a year burden when we look at the cost of prematurity. That isn't long term cost - that is initial costs. Because having a baby born premature, just those initial costs of birth, it is 11 times more expensive than if you have a healthy full term baby.

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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