4 Reasons Why We Can Save Newborn Lives

Hawa, twenty seven, and her son Jackson, two weeks. Liberia. Photo: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

For millions of parents across the world, the day their child is born ends in loss. For many, this loss comes as a result of a premature birth, when a baby develops complications during or after labor.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The international community, working alongside governments, local partners, hospitals, communities, families, and parents, are proving that change is possible now.

Here are 4 reasons why:

1: We know why newborns are dying – Until recently, the causes behind the staggering number of newborn deaths were unknown. Today we know that around the world nearly 3 million babies die every year during their first 4 weeks of life, and one third of them don’t survive their first day. That is over 2,800 babies every day who don’t make it to day two. We also know that more than 80% of these lives are lost to only 3 causes: a mother and baby experiencing complications during childbirth – like the inability to start breathing within the first minute of life, developing complications from being born too soon, or infections that if left untreated turn deadly fast.

2: We can prevent most deaths – Knowing the causes of newborn death has been critical to galvanizing experts and governments around extensive research into how to address this. As a result, we now know that the majority of newborn deaths are largely preventable and treatable. Over 2/3 of these deaths can be averted with better access to quality health care.

The last decade has seen a number of advances in the understanding of what works to end preventable mortality. Solutions range from preventive strategies to management and treatment of complications, and have been proven effective in challenging settings. For example, administering antenatal steroids (at a minimum cost of $0.51 per dose) to a mom in preterm labor, helps her baby speed up lung development, reducing the risk of newborn death by more than 50% in low-resource facilities. Coupling that with essential newborn care for babies who are born too soon, including exclusive breastfeeding and skin to skin contact, dramatically increases a baby’s chance of surviving and thriving.

3: We have proof it works – Some countries have made dramatic progress in addressing newborn mortality, and many more are committing to do so. In the last 10 years, 77 countries reduced their newborn mortality rate by over 25%. More than a dozen of these countries are low income countries where the greatest numbers of newborn deaths occur. They have worked to integrate newborn health within their national systems and programs, and towards reaching every mother and every newborn. Several countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Malawi have achieved Millennium Development Goal 4 for Child Survival ahead of schedule, in part thanks to concerted efforts to tackle newborn mortality.

Despite all of this, change has been slow. Some countries have stalled in making further progress, and investment in programs that benefit mothers and newborns is lagging. Accelerating newborn survival has become increasingly significant in our battle to end preventable child mortality.

4: The time is now – With the looming 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals, we cannot wait to address newborn deaths. Today, newborns account for over 44 percent of deaths among children under 5. This means in order to continue making progress, we must look after newborns. Nations and stakeholders have begun a movement for an Every Newborn action plan, setting the roadmap for accelerated change. It is your turn to join us.

Join us this week in honor of #EveryNewborn across the world. As experts gather in Ethiopia for women’s reproductive rights, think about the 1.1 million newborn deaths that can also be averted with access to family planning. As stakeholders gather in Brazil to advocate for a stronger global health workforce, think about supporting those fighting against all odds for newborns.

And join thousands of associations, societies, professionals, private sector organizations and individuals to mark World Prematurity Day on November 17, bringing attention to the global challenge of premature birth.

Some of the global discussions taking place include (click here for more details on each event):

  • On Friday Nov 15 (12-2 pm CET), the South African and UK Permanent Missions in Geneva, Switzerland will co-host an event presenting the Every Newborn action plan.

  • A discussion this Friday Nov 15 (10-11:30 AM EST) will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Zambia and USAID. View the live webcast at www.webtv.un.org.

  • A technical symposium in Washington DC next Tuesday Nov 19 (9-12 noon EST) will focus discussion on what the international community can do to improve the effective delivery of preterm interventions around the time of birth. Click here to register online.

  • A 24-hour Global Twitter Relay beginning Friday Nov 15 and running through Saturday will engage millions using the hashtag #WorldPrematurityDay. Join the Healthy Newborn Network (@HealthyNewborns) and partners – share your story, ask your questions, join the movement!

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