In industrialized countries, 5-11% of infants are born preterm (<37 weeks' gestation), and the rate has been increasing since the early 1980s. Preterm births account for 70% of neonatal deaths and up to 75% of neonatal morbidity, and contribute to long-term neurocognitive deficits, pulmonary dysfunction and ophthalmologic disorders. In the past several decades, major progress has been made in improving the survival of extremely premature newborns, mostly attributable to timely access to effective interventions that ameliorate prematurity-associated mortality and morbidity such as antenatal administration of corticosteroids and exogenous surfactant therapy, rather than preventing preterm births. However, the societal and healthcare costs to care for survivors with severe morbidity and neurological handicaps remain substantial. Future research should concentrate on the ways to reduce long-term health sequelae and developmental handicaps among survivors of infants born preterm, as well as elucidating the mechanisms and aetiology of preterm births.