Addressing Critical Knowledge Gaps in Newborn Health

Global Newborn Action (with a) Plan

This blog was originally published in Impatient Optimists. Written by Gary Darmstadt and Cyril Engmann.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.”

Truer words were never spoken. We take those words to heart as hundreds of global health researchers, policy-makers, civil society leaders, program managers, health practitioners, and newborn champions gather in Johannesburg, South Africa this week at the Global Newborn Health Conference to discuss how to improve the poor statistics on newborn health.

Currently, approximately 3 million newborns die every year. This is equivalent to a large commercial plane full of passengers crashing every hour! We here at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation join with many around the world in believing that every person, including newborns, deserves the chance to live a healthy productive life. Within the context of reducing newborn mortality and enhancing development, a plan is being crafted to set out a clear understanding of what needs to be done and by whom to reduce the growing and intolerable burden of preventable deaths in the critical 28 days after birth.

A diverse group has come together to move this forward—national governments, multilateral agencies, donors and foundations, civil society, health professionals, academia and the private sector. This collective analysis and effort should ensure that all aspects of newborn health are included in this plan.

We like to think of this as Global Newborn Action (with a) Plan. What we don’t want out of this process is a pretty document sitting on a shelf somewhere and dusted off periodically. We need a plan that addresses actionable steps, with strong, measurable outcomes that have an impact on newborn lives.  We know the causes of newborn mortality and we have many effective solutions. We know many of these solutions need to be scaled up with smart metrics to track progress towards reducing neonatal mortality. And we have a global commitment to improving the chances of newborn survival.

Now we need to have strategically planned actions and partnerships to make that happen.

These actions will become a concise roadmap for change, enabling high-level policy makers to take action to accelerate national plans and commitments to achieve clear results for newborn survival. It will set out innovative actions and opportunities, key players and personnel, costs and investments, policy change and time frames necessary to achieve scale up and delivery of essential interventions to promote newborn survival.

Most importantly, this Global Newborn Action (with a) Plan will build from and link to existing efforts for the entire continuum of care for women and children. This plan must broaden our partnerships and engage across a variety of sectors and areas that influence newborn health, including ones outside of the newborn community of champions. It must be a plan that creates catalytic partnerships, when partners purposefully choose leverage points that lead to better, faster and greater health outcomes or to positive change that would not have happened otherwise.

This Global Newborn Action (with a) Plan is expected to be finalized by the end of the year. With this, we hope to capitalize on the significant progress made to date for newborn health and demonstrate our commitment.

As the phrase goes, that commitment takes us beyond promises to a concrete plan and concrete actions, including new ways of working together across disciplines and sectors and across the continuum of care for women and children to improve a newborn’s chance of survival. Now is the time for newborn action….with a plan.