In last week’s issue of the medical journal The Lancet, researchers reported new evidence that a simple, inexpensive and widely available antiseptic could be key in preventing hundreds of thousands of newborn deaths each year. Mothers in countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh often apply traditional liniments such as mustard seed oil to a newborn’s umbilical cord, but the antiseptic, chlorhexidine, applied even just one time in the hours after birth, makes an enormous difference in preventing infection.
Save the Children‘s Monika Gutestam traveled to Nepal in the fall and took the beautiful photographs in the slideshow that follows. First, though, here’s what Monika had to say about the impact of the chlorhexidine treatment on this vulnerable population:
Each year more than 3 million newborns do not survive their first four weeks of life, and more than one million of these newborns die as a result of serious infection, sepsis. After the baby is born the newly cut umbilical cord is especially vulnerable to infection, particularly in low-income settings where births often take place at home and often under unsanitary conditions.
But now we have a new tool in the fight against infection: cleaning the baby’s umbilical cord with the widely used antiseptic chlorhexidine is a simple, safe and effective way to prevent needless deaths. New studies from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh show that using chlorhexidine on the cord can reduce newborn mortality by more than 23%. That means that more than 200,000 babies every year could be saved in Asia alone if mothers and newborns had access to this product.
In September 2011, I had the chance to visit Nepal and see how frontline community health workers help and teach mothers to use chlorhexidine, and witnessed firsthand the great result the use of this product has had. We travelled to Nepalganj, a town on the border between India and Nepal, where I had the opportunity to join two amazing women who both work as Female Community Health Volunteers. Radha Acharya and Sita Singh are part of a 50,000 strong group of trained health workers, delivering care for mothers and newborns in their communities.
The following slideshow shows the impact of the work women like Radha and Sita do every day to care for mothers and babies at home, and how early detection and cleaning the cord with chlorhexidine can save newborn babies.
All photos by Monika Gutestam / Save the Children
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