More very premature babies are surviving, and with less neurological problems, a new US study has found.
The study found an increase in survival rate for babies born between 22 and 24 weeks over a three-year period. It was conducted by Duke Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Prof Michael Cotten, one of the lead researchers of the study, said the findings were “encouraging”.
The study found that from a sample of 4,274 babies born between 22 and 24 weeks, there were about 30 per cent who had survived that were born between 2000 and 2003, but that rate increased to 36 per cent for babies born in 2008 to 2011.
Prof Cotten said: “We are always looking at how we can make further headway and continue to improve survival and reduce illness in this population.”
He added: “The results of this study are encouraging, but there’s still a long way to go.”
It comes soon after a report in the UK found that the number of babies who survive after being born at 23 weeks has risen significantly.
According to The Sunday Times, 70 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks are now surviving in some hospitals.
Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, said the increase in survival figures are “again raising serious questions about the 24 week upper limit for social abortion”.
The Sunday Times reported that 22 out of 30 babies born after 23 weeks over the past five years have survived at University College London Hospitals.
Figures also found that 16 out of 25 babies born at 23 weeks have survived at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
Together the hospitals are significantly better than the last national study, which found survival of babies born at 23 weeks in 2006 was just 19 per cent.
Dr Vimal Vasu, Consultant in Neonatal Medicine at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, cited data from Japan which showed that a focus on attempting to save the lives of babies born prematurely had led to “better survival rates”, adding: “It is a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Writing on his blog, Dr Saunders said: “It is utterly incongruous that on the one hand we are aborting babies at a gestation when others are surviving with good neonatal care.”
He added: “Every extremely pre-term baby deserves the chance to be considered for treatment”.
Dr Saunders went on to say that the figures demonstrate “what can be achieved with a proactive approach and skilled staff” and that each society “will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members”.
“It’s time now for Parliament again to ask serious questions about late abortion”, he concluded.