Dr. Joy Lawn works tirelessly to ensure newborns get a healthy shot at life. In her travels with the Saving Newborn Lives Program at Save the Children, she comes across a multitude of stories like this one she recently wrote about for Healthy Newborn Network:
A woman goes into labour in rural Uganda. After a day in labour she is weakening and her husband brings her to the nearest facility although it has no running water or electricity. The midwife on duty recognises that the mother needs an emergency C-section, however, there is no doctor at this facility and the nearest referral hospital is a two-day drive away. The midwife takes action and finds a doctor who had observed a C-section as a medical student but had never performed one. He cuts the woman open from sternum to pelvis.
This particular story ends well. Both mother and baby survive thanks to a proactive midwife. Here’s the kicker: the woman is Dr. Lawn’s own mother, and the baby is Dr. Lawn. Dr. Lawn shared her personal experience to highlight the crucial need for more trained midwives and skilled health workers worldwide and particularly in Africa.
A study published today in the medical journal PLoS Medicine and coauthored by Dr. Lawn highlights, too, the vital need to focus on the health of newborns.
The study, conducted by researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO), Save the Children and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine includes 20 years of data from all 193 WHO member countries and provides the most comprehensive set of estimates to date.
There is some good news. The authors found that neonatal deaths dropped from 4.6 million to 3.3 million between 1990 and 2009, but it’s still slow going. Prevention of newborn deaths lags behind progress on maternal mortality, and mortality of older children (ages 1 month to 5 years), Save the Children says. And, the study’s authors point out the share of newborn deaths will likely keep on growing.
More than half of the neonatal deaths in 2009 occurred in just 5 countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR). And despite the worldwide decrease over the 20 year period, neonatal mortality rates are up in 8 countries — 5 of which are in Africa. Even here at home the news is not all good. The U.S. now ranks 41st on the list — dropping down from number 28, 20 years ago.
And in fact, each year more than 8 million children don’t live to see their 5th birthday. Most of these deaths occur in the developing world, and most are preventable with proper care, as Dr. Lawn pointed out.
“Newborns are barely on the global health agenda and this study lays out the tragic results of that neglect. Each year 3.3 million babies still die in the first four weeks of life — despite the existence of proven, cost-effective interventions that could save these newborn lives,” Dr. Lawn said.
The study points to preterm delivery, asphyxia and severe infections as the three leading causes of newborn death. “We know that solutions as simple as keeping newborns warm, clean and properly breastfed can keep them alive, but many countries are in desperate need of more and better trained frontline health workers to teach these basic lifesaving practices,” Dr Lawn said.
“The global health worker crisis is the biggest factor in the deaths of mothers and children, and particularly the 3.3 million newborns dying needlessly each year. Training more midwives and more community health workers will allow many more lives to be saved.”
Take action! Save the Children is calling for more health workers to prevent these kind of deaths, and also letting Americans know that the best way they can support continued progress on saving lives is to ask Congress not to approve cuts to foreign aid. Sign the petition here.
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Photo credit: Brainsonic