Addressing Critical Knowledge Gaps in Newborn Health

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health: Taking Action for Preterm Birth

The following post is part of a blog series on preterm birth, leading to World Prematurity Day on November 17 and highlighting the actions needed to prevent and reduce preterm birth, the leading cause of newborn deaths. Join us as we discover that everyone has a role to play. Written by Carole Presern and Lori McDougall.

The 2 May launch of Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth was a game-changer:   The report presented first-ever statistics on the growing global tragedy of preterm births.   Based on 2010 figures, we now know that prematurity is the second-leading cause of death in children under the age of five, after pneumonia; that 15 million babies are born too soon every year, or before 38 weeks of completed gestation; and that 1.1 million preterm babies die every year.

It is a sad reality that 90% of preterm babies born in low-income countries will die, while 90% of preterm babies born in high-income countries will survive. The unfairness of this survival gap drives us forward at The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, where we advocate for greater provision of life-saving medicines, supplies and services, as well as the resources and policies that enable women and children to access them.

The solutions are many. Kangaroo Mother Care, for instance, can cut preterm deaths in half. Greater availability of inexpensive antenatal steroids can save hundreds of thousands of lives. Greater access to family planning, especially for adolescent girls, has an important protective effect, as well.

But underlying such practical interventions is the importance of partnership. Born Too Soon represents an unprecedented effort in joint advocacy for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. With a foreword from the UN Secretary-General, Born Too Soon brought together more than 100 experts representing almost 50 international, regional and national organizations, agencies, universities, organizations, and parent groups in a joint effort led by the March of Dimes, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), Save the Children and the World Health Organization in support of the Every Woman Every Child effort, led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

30 new Commitments to preterm birth

Partnership, marked by collaboration, cooperation and alignment, is an important modus operandi in the health and development community, with key constituencies working to make a difference and save lives:  developing countries, donors and multilateral organizations, health care professional and academics, civil society organizations and the private sector. The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, for instance, now has more than 460 partners – a 50% increase in the past two years, as partners recognize the value of working in alignment with each other.

The launch of Born Too Soon is only the beginning.  At the time of the launch,  30 new and expanded commitments specific to prevention and care of preterm birth were also announced -- commitments which will now become part of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. These commitments join more than 200 existing commitments  in support of the Every Woman Every Child effort.

These new commitments can be found at found at on the Every Woman Every Child website. Some of these new commitments are completely new -- from HPB - Home for Premature Babies - China’s largest association of parents and families affected by a preterm birth, to universities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, the Philippines, the United States and the United Kingdom.  Other partners are updating prior commitments to specify action for those born too soon, including Save the Children, UNICEF, UNFPA and WHO, to name a few.   

Advocacy, accountability and information

Progress in fulfilling these commitments will be tracked through the processes established by the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, and the independent Expert Review Group (iERG) which was established last year following the publication of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. The iERG, chaired by Richard Horton will be help to chart our collective progress. 

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health supports this process by publishing an annual report on the progress of the 200+ commitments to the Global Strategy, with its next report due in September of this year.

The Partnership will also advocate for greater attention to newborn survival, based on the evidence in this report and other sources. For example, on May 22, The Partnership organized a Ministerial Breakfast Briefing at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, to ensure this new evidence is shared widely with the most affected countries. It will also continue to support the UN Commission on Lifesaving Commodities for Women and Children, Co-Chaired by Norway and Nigeria, as it considers the importance of scaling up antenatal steroids, as recommended in Born Too Soon.

By creating greater visibility, resources and partner engagement, PMNCH members will work to help reach Millennium Development Goal 4, which calls for reducing under-five child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. Working on MDG 5 (reproductive and maternal health), will also have an impact, as many of the interventions that will save premature and newborn lives are the same as those needed for women—particularly skilled care at the time of birth.

Everyone has a role to play

Finally, in the coming months, PMNCH will support the development of an expert group for setting a global goal on the reduction of preterm birth, with the aim of announcing this goal on World Prematurity Day, 17 November 2012.  We urge you to support this expert group, and as advocates and decision-makers – to help build momentum through the advocacy of #Borntoosoon.

Born Too Soon shows rapid change is possible and identifies priority actions. We all have a role – whether we are a policymaker, professional or parent. Do join us and play your part to ensure a safe delivery and save lives of all those born too soon.

> Join the conversation on Twitter at #BornTooSoon.

> Learn more about preterm birth