Newborn Health Promoted as Key to MDG4 at the International Pediatrics Association Congress
The International Pediatric Association (IPA) has held global events for the past 100 years. But for the more than 4000 pediatric medical professionals who came to Johannesburg, South Africa for the 26th International Pediatric Association Congress from August 4-9, this Congress was different.
For the first time since its inception in 1910, the IPA held its triennial Congress in sub-Saharan Africa where more than half of the world’s child deaths occur each year.
For the first time, the Congress framed its sessions around meeting Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, the United Nations’ goal to reduce child mortality by 2/3 by 2015.
And for the first time, a significant portion of the event’s broad scientific program focused on reducing the world’s 3.6 million newborn deaths.
“[At the IPA Congress] three years ago in Athens, newborn health had one plenary talk but little main stream focus,” said Dr. Joy Lawn, Director of Global Evidence and Policy for Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, “whereas this IPA Congress gave major focus for newborn health in a packed plenary session and 3 symposia. Newborn health came up throughout the opening session and in multiple sessions.”
The Congress’s focus on newborn health reflected the growing awareness that reducing neonatal deaths is a critical step towards child survival and health, and that paediatricians specifically have a role to play. These deaths now account for 41% of under-5 deaths worldwide, and most countries with a high burden of neonatal deaths have few, if any, neonatologists.
During her plenary talk, Dr. Lawn challenged pediatricians to stand up for newborns and “advocate for change, act to influence policy and implement programs, audit deaths, improve quality of care, and also advance research gaps.” Dr Lawn also challenged pediatricians not to stand in the way. Citing progress in Malawi, she noted that, “despite having only 4 national paediatricians, Malawi is on track for achieving MDG4- these doctors are championing task shifting and delegation with supervision for community based care instead of blocking policy change towards community care as some professionals do.”
At the last Congress, newborn health was gaining awareness as a global health problem. Now there are effective, affordable solutions, training packages, and innovative, simple technology ready to be used and implemented at scale in countries – an example being the Helping Babies Breathe initiative.
“A lot of momentum for newborn health was generated from the 2005 Lancet Neonatal Series, and the reality has dawned on us in sub-Saharan Africa that more needs to be done for newborns,” said Dr. Alexander Manu, Principal Investigator for the Ghana NewHints trial. “Community interventions have been featured well at the Congress and it is clear that we have a unique opportunity to take this forward.”
During panels speakers addressed several aspects of newborn health such as neonatal infections, newborn resuscitation, outcomes of low birth weight babies, feasible community care approaches, and examples of successful programs and progress in countries.
“[The Congress] offered an opening to bring in paediatricians to address newborn health both in prevention and curatively and an opportunity for midwives, community health workers, researchers and paediatricians to work together,” said Evelyn Zimba, Saving Newborn Lives Program Manager in Malawi.
Speakers, including Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta of Aga Khan University in Pakistan, also framed newborn health programs as strategies to uphold the vital link between maternal, and child health.
“We have a common agenda and need to bring people together,” said Dr. Manu. “From the womb, delivery, skin-to-skin, breastfeeding – mother and baby are together and cannot separated.”
Attendees remarked that the Congress’s motto was an appropriate choice. “This meeting demonstrated the Congress mantra – “Simunye – we are one” – whereby all professional groups working for newborns should come together in saving mothers and babies,” said Dr. Susan Niermeyer, from the Helping Babies Breathe initiative.
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