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Volunteers fight polio, prematurity

Throughout its history, the March of Dimes has been a dynamic volunteer organization, a leader and catalytic force in improving the health of babies. The success of the March of Dimes rests with volunteers - more than 3 million real people who have mobilized their communities, indeed an entire nation, against maternal and infant health problems.

President Franklin Roosevelt established the March of Dimes in 1938 to save America's youth from polio. His premise was that people can solve any problem if they work together. He created a partnership of volunteers and researchers. Within 17 years, the Salk vaccine had been developed, and polio was on the run. That dynamic partnership has endured, and it's what makes the March of Dimes work. We've saved millions of innocent babies from birth defects and infant death over the past 64 years. As long as babies' lives hang in the balance, the March of Dimes mission is clear: to give babies a fighting chance.

Today, the mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. This mission is carried out through research, community services, education and advocacy to save babies' lives. Gwinnett residents who need assistance can find help at the Northeast Division Office in Suwanee, which serves multiple counties in north Georgia. March of Dimes researchers, volunteers, educators, outreach workers and advocates work together to give all babies a fighting chance against the threats to their health: birth defects, low birth weight and prematurity.

Georgia has one of the highest premature birth rates in the country, with 323 preterm and 53 very preterm babies born each week. In fact, in 2002, 12.6 percent of all births in the state of Georgia were preterm.

"Prematurity is a serious problem in Georgia, affecting hundreds of families each week," said Dr. George Bugg, neonatologist with Grady Hospital and March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign Chair. "Georgia has a fast-growing population, which means at the current rate, more and more families in our state will be affected by a premature birth unless something is done."

In 2003, the March of Dimes launched its Prematurity Campaign, a five-year, $75 million research, awareness and education campaign to help families have healthier babies. The campaign includes:

n Funding research to find the causes of premature birth

n Educating families about the warning signs of premature labor and what can be done to prevent it

n Providing support to families of babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units

n Expanding access to health care coverage so that more women can get prenatal care

n Helping health care providers learn ways to help reduce the risk of early delivery

n Advocating for access to insurance to improve maternity care and infant health outcomes.

On April 30, March of Dimes' largest fundraising event, WalkAmerica, happens at Lake Lanier Islands and brings people together to help save babies in Gwinnett County and beyond by achieving the monetary goal of $325,000. Money raised will support March of Dimes efforts in research, awareness and education. The walk will be followed by family activities, food and entertainment.

For more information, call the Northeast Division office of the March of Dimes at 678-546-0023 or visit www.walkamerica.org

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Lisa Tully of the March of Dimes.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.