Nov. 20, 2003 – St. Croix's Nu Chi Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority is participating in the national organization's focus this month on the growing incidence of premature births across the country and what can be done about it.
On Sunday, the group provided information at the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Frederiksted. On Tuesday, it supported the national March of Dimes in observing National Prematurity Awareness Day.
"We want to help the March of Dimes educate the public" about the causes of premature birth and how to prevent it, Michelle Gibbs-Riviere, Nu Chi Zeta president, said. "So we are bringing this vital information to the places where we worship, one of the cores of community life." She added: "This issue affects so many in the community, it seems like the right thing to do."
One in eight births in the United States is premature, an increase of 27 percent since 1981, according to a release from the sorority. And among African-Americans, the rate is one in six births.
"Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death (in the first month of life)," the release stated, "and many of those babies who survive leave the hospital with lifelong health conditions or developmental disabilities that will place additional burden on the family."
And in 2001, it said, the costs of medical care in the United States for severely premature babies "were nearly 60 times higher than the charges for newborn stays without complications."
Gibbs-Riviere said there is a way that everyone with Internet access can help address the problem of rising premature births throughout the nation: by going to the March of Dimes Web site and clicking on the baby wristband when it appears in the main illustration. "CIGNA, a prematurity campaign corporate sponsor, will donate $1 for each click up to $150,000," she said.
And then, she said, the March of Dimes will take the tabulation of "clicks" and use the statistic to demonstrate to Congress and government health officials the importance of increasing the amount of research dollars available to find the causes of premature births.
The release noted that the March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the not-for-profit organization funds programs of research, community services, education and advocacy. This year, it launched a five-year campaign to support research into the causes of premature births and to educate women, health-care professionals and the public in general about escalating health problems of prematurity.
Gibbs-Riviere said that in addition to clicking, herself, on the March of Dimes site, she was going to ask "10 of my friends and sorors to click and pass it on, too."
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