THE BLOG

Not Just Baby Steps: Global Action Gives All Newborns a Fighting Chance to Survive and Thrive

06/30/2014 03:41 pm ET | Updated Aug 30, 2014

Each of us has a role to play in helping to save newborn lives. Here's why I believe it's important, what some of us are doing about it, and how each of us can help.

Neonatal deaths account for 44 percent of under-5 mortality. Although we have seen incredible success in bringing down under-5 deaths, neonatal mortality rates have declined at a slower pace. This is in part because the leading causes of newborn mortality are sometimes harder to diagnose and treat than leading causes of mortality in older children under age 5.

This week, USAID is joining a global movement to give newborns a fighting chance to survive and thrive during the most perilous period of life -- during delivery and the post-natal period when prematurity, asphyxia and infection pose grave threats to their survival. Action to prevent newborn deaths is a vital element in all we are doing to end preventable child and maternal deaths -- and helping to save newborns helps us to save moms, and can enable these fragile beings to become healthy children.

For more than a year, USAID and our partners have developed the Every Newborn Action Plan, which was endorsed at the World Health Assembly in May and will be launched today at the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Forum. This is the first plan to unite the global community around progress toward newborn health outcomes -- it is both a historic moment and opportunity. The plan outlines a practical strategy to address newborn mortality and identifies tactics and milestones for the global community to support national and local plans and action.

This is a very exciting next step in saving the 2.9 million babies that die every year during their first month of life, and helping to avoid 2.6 million stillbirths per year.

For the past decade, USAID has played a significant role in advancing development policies, practice and strategy for newborns through collaborative research and programming to address the major drivers of mortality. Let me tell you a little more about this, and about how partnerships with governments, private sector, and other actors are helping to drive transformational results.

Through research, USAID demonstrated the efficacy of training health professionals to manage asphyxia, a leading cause of newborn mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 700,000 newborn babies die each year from intrapartum complications, including birth asphyxia, the inability to breathe immediately after delivery. USAID, through a public-private partnership, is supporting the implementation of this approach in 24 partner countries by rolling out training and implementation research. Learn how Helping Babies Breathe and innovative equipment -- like the NeoNatalie training simulator, bag and mask resuscitator and "penguin" suction blub -- are driving down neonatal mortality in Malawi.

And the Agency supported scaling up of chlorhexidine (CHX) in Nepal. CHX, a very low-cost antiseptic, is used to prevent umbilical cord infections in newborns, a leading cause of newborn mortality. Cutting the birth cord with unsterilized instruments, and the application of substances such as ash, oil and cow dung by traditional birth attendants or family members, increased risk of cord infection and death.

USAID partnered with Nepal's Ministry of Health and Population to bring chlorhexidine to newborns in nearly all of Nepal's districts. At 23 cents per dose, the drug is a scientifically proven innovation that has been shown to reduce up to a third of newborn deaths. The recent World Health Assembly resolution reflects many years of work by USAID and others to advance global-level policy and inspire country-level action.

This is the second research product USAID has guided through a managed research-to-use process. The first product, oral rehydration solution and zinc, has been used as a treatment for diarrheal diseases in more than 20 USAID-supported countries. Working with the partner governments, the chlorhexidine working group and other partners, product introduction for CHX is anticipated in at least 10 countries by 2016.

To complement the strong evidence available on the impact of facility-based Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), USAID is currently evaluating the feasibility of implementing community-based Kangaroo KMC, as an extension of supervised facility-based KMC, to help babies born with low birth weight survive. Babies who are born small are around 20 times more likely to die compared to babies who have higher birth weights; and around one-third of low birth weight babies die within the first 12 hours of delivery. Since many deliveries take place at home in partner countries, community kangaroo mother care teaches mothers and other caretakers how to practice prolonged skin-to-skin contact and provide exclusive breastfeeding while they are in their home.

And USAID is advancing simple actions, such as hand-washing with soap, that can make a drastic difference in ending preventable newborn deaths. Together with Unilever, USAID has developed a communication package to promote hand-washing with soap among caretakers of newborns.

During the Acting on the Call forum, co-hosted by the Governments of Ethiopia and India in collaboration with UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID and other partners announced several new commitments to improve newborn survival.

USAID, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and pediatric associations of Nigeria, India, and Ethiopia announced the Helping 100,000 Babies Survive and Thrive partnership, a new initiative aimed at saving at least 100,000 newborn lives each year in partnership with Laerdal Global Health, Johnson & Johnson, the Government of Norway, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is an expansion of the Survive and Thrive Global Development Alliance, which was announced at the 2012 Call to Action.

Tore Laerdal, managing director of Laerdal Global Health and executive director of Laerdal Foundation, announced a commitment of $55 million in support of USAID's public-private partnerships, including the new Helping 100,000 Babies Survive and Thrive, and other partners' efforts to end preventable newborn and maternal deaths.

It's thanks to the passion and commitment of all these organizations and people that we can aspire to end newborn and child deaths in a generation. Please help us by joining us with your voice and your action.

Editor's Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section.