Finally, neonatal mortality prevention gains attention



Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Community Health, WHO. – Photo: R. Prasad

Following the approval of the Every Newborn Action Plan by the ministers last month in the World Health Assembly, a new global action was launched on June 30 in the Partner’s Forum in Johannesburg to bring in significant new financing, policy and service delivery commitments that could save the lives of newborns and mothers.

The need for such focus arises as about three million women and newborns die every year from preventable and treatable conditions like prematurity, complications around birth and severe infections. All the 194 countries that attended the World Health Assembly last month agreed to a commitment to support and implement measures that would save these lives.

“The WHO remains committed to support countries and work with partners as the plan gets implemented and to the accountability agenda, which included the reporting on progress achieved every year until 2030,” Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Community Health at WHO said in a release.


Photo: R. Prasad

While the number of maternal and newborn (0-27 days) deaths has shrunk significantly over the last two decades, the number of newborn deaths and still birth has been depressingly high. Nearly three million (2.9 million to be precise) newborn deaths are still seen, and another 2.6 million are stillborn globally every year.

At 779,000, India has the highest neonatal deaths in the world, and 56 per cent of all under-five year deaths in India happen during the neonatal period.

That newborn death now accounts for 44 per cent of all under-5 deaths worldwide every year is a poignant reminder of the unfinished work. Also, babies face the greatest risk of dying during the first 24 hours. First day of birth is the most risky period for both mother and newborn. In India, over 300,000 newborns deaths take place in the first 24 hours, the highest for any country.  These deaths account for 29 per cent of the global total.

If death on the first day contributes to around half of world’s newborn deaths annually, 50 per cent of 290,000 maternal deaths occurring each year across the world is also during the first day of delivery. Clearly, reductions in neonatal mortality have lagged behind those of maternal, infant, and child mortality due to less attention and investment.

It is to prevent these deaths that 40 commitments have been made by the private sector, few countries, philanthropic institutions and NGOs. The private sector, which is supporting the “Every Woman Every Child” movement, is responsible for supporting 17 of the 40 commitments.

Johnson & Johnson will through its $30 million commitment “work with partners to implement evidence-based interventions and innovative technologies designed to improve the health-knowledge of pregnant women and mothers.”

Similarly, Laerdal has made a financial commitment of $35-50 million through 2017 “to develop and provide on a non-profit basis, innovative products and programs for high-interventions for saving lives at birth,” said Tore Laerdal, Chairman and Managing Director of Laerdal Global Health in a release.

The Well Being Foundation, Novartis, Pfizer, McCann Health, Merck & Co are among others who have made financial commitment from the private sector.

The Islamic Development Bank has a made a huge $90 million commitment to address one of the most neglected but very important areas – building midwifery schools, training health workers in maternal and neonatal care and establishing health information system, including birth registration. On the sub-Saharan countries would stand to benefit.

Five governments – Bolivia, Cameroon, Malawi, the United Sates and Oman — have made commitments.

Four philanthropic institutions and other funders have pledged their support. These institutions are: Bill & Melinda gates Foundation, Sanofi Espoir Foundation, The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and The Wellbeing Foundation.

Of the several non-governmental organisations, the Family Planning Association of India (FPA India) is one of them. It commits to promote and advocate for universal access to sexual and reproductive health services by continuing to serve the poor, marginalized, socially excluded, and the underserved.

(The Correspondent is participating in the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Forum in Johannesburg at the invitation of the Global Health Strategies, New Delhi.)

Published in The Hindu on June 30, 2014