Save the Children's Newborn Health Expert, Dr. Joy Lawn, Examines How Nepal and Malawi Make Gains in Saving Newborn Lives; Film Airing on January 26-29
WESTPORT, Conn.(Jan.25, 2010) — Many of the nearly 4 million newborn deaths that occur worldwide each year could be prevented with simple, cost-effective solutions, according to Invisible Lives, a documentary scheduled to air across the globe on January 26 at 20:30 GMT on BBC World.Dr. Joy Lawn, a newborn health expert with Save the Children, travels to Nepal and Malawi to examine how these two countries, although worlds apart, are making progress in saving newborn lives.
The documentary explores how these low-income countries are among the few on track to meet the United Nation's Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths of children under five by two-thirds by 2015, despite myriad obstacles.
|Dr. Joy E. Lawn of Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives program.|
"Invisible Lives is both a celebration of progress against the odds and a call for urgent action to save more lives," says Lawn. "We have solutions, and these countries prove that faster progress is possible. The time is now to ensure every baby and mother has the chance to survive and thrive."
More than two-thirds of newborn deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, often in the first days of life. Most die without a name, let alone a birth certificate.
The risk of newborn death in Malawi and Nepal is 33 per 1,000 births; whereas the same risk in Europe and North America is around 3 per 1,000 births.
"While the numbers are daunting, Malawi and Nepal demonstrate major life-saving progress is being made," says Charles MacCormack, president and CEO of Save the Children. "These countries are shining examples of what can be accomplished when governments, United Nations agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations work together to support health systems in low-income countries."
Malawi and Nepal Preventing Newborn Deaths
Despite the common problems of poverty, disease, political upheaval and a lack of resources, Nepal and Malawi have each managed to address the three main causes of newborn deaths—complications from preterm birth, infection and birth distress—with different approaches within their means. Although both countries use a range of community and facility-based strategies to improve newborn health, Malawi focuses on increasing facility/hospital births, while Nepal emphasizes family care and behavior change in communities.
Both strategies are working. Malawi is one of only two low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Nepal is one of only two in South Asia on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for child survival. Learn more about the Millennium goals and our campaign to save the lives of children under 5.
"Nepal and Malawi provide hope and practical examples of action," says Lawn. "Both countries have invested in the care of newborns and their mothers at the critical time of birth and the first few days of life. Today, a baby's chances of surviving in either country are better than ever before."
In Malawi, a country with the lowest population of physicians in the world, Lawn visits a hospital and meets a mother named Stella. Stella's baby was born three months early and weighed less than two pounds. Yet, her baby is going home alive because of Kangaroo Mother Care.
This simple, universal and biologically sound method of care for all newborns, especially premature babies, requires that mothers like Stella carry their small babies against their chest all day, promoting feeding, warmth, and bonding. Mothers serve as natural heaters for their babies when no incubator or electricity is available. Kangaroo Mother Care could potentially halve the one million newborn deaths due to prematurity on a worldwide level.
Most women in Malawi, around 60 percent, give birth at hospitals rather than at home, which allows them to receive the proper care they and their babies need.
"The government is building more health centers which are well equipped. We have also scaled up the training of midwives," says Professor Moses Charambo, Minister of Health in Malawi.
By contrast, over 80 percent of births take place at home in Nepal. "It is difficult to bring newborns to the health facilities because of access, because of tradition and because of taboos. So we must provide health services close to home," says Dr. Y.V. Pradhan, director, Child Health Division with Nepal's Ministry of Health.
In Nepal, Lawn meets Bhagwhati, a volunteer community health worker, and one of many health workers playing an important role in helping the country reduce the number of child deaths by 61 percent over the past decade. Although volunteers like Bhagwhati are not medically qualified, they have been trained to recognize dangerous signs in childbirth, such as infection, which is the leading cause of newborn deaths in Nepal. They also advise mothers to go to the nearest health post if the baby gets ill.
Affordable Health Care Saves Newborn Lives
At least two-thirds of newborn deaths could be prevented in low-income countries if mothers and babies had a package of affordable lifesaving care, according to Lawn. These include skilled attendance at childbirth; simple newborn care including breastfeeding, warmth and a breathing apparatus, if needed; Kangaroo Mother Care for preterm babies; and antibiotics to fight infections. As shown in the documentary, community health workers can provide several of these interventions.
"The health care solutions for maternal and newborn health are well-known, proven and cost-effective," says Lawn. "They work, and they are affordable. With greater investment and a global commitment, we would save millions of children's lives."
Save the Children Calls on International Community to Act
The Newborn, Child, and Mother Survival Act of 2009 introduced in the U.S. Congress would provide millions more mothers with proven interventions. The legislation calls for developing an integrated strategy for reducing child and maternal mortality in 60 developing countries, setting up a task force to make sure every dollar spent goes where it's needed most and authorizing funding for maternal and child health programs. Current U.S. spending on maternal and child health is just $549 million a year.
U.S. government commitments to maternal and child health programs should significantly increase, according to Save the Children. It has also called on the international community as a whole to support the delivery of proven interventions.
The documentary, Invisible Lives, will air on BBC World: Jan.26, 20:30 GMT; Jan.27, 11:30 GMT (Asia Pacific only); Jan. 28, 15:30 GMT; Jan.29, 02:30 GMT