The following piece was written by Melinda French Gates, as part of a series on Global Perinatal Health. Originally posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation blog, re-posted with permission.
This month, the journal Seminars in Perinatology published an important series on the health of mothers and newborn babies. While it’s hard to celebrate when so many mothers and their children are still dying of preventable causes, the authors of the series provide new analyses that give us reason to hope.
The perinatal period (encompassing the last trimester of pregnancy through the first week of the newborn baby’s life) is very risky for mothers and newborns, especially in poor countries. Nearly 2 million maternal deaths, stillbirths, and newborn deaths occur right around the time of childbirth each year. This loss of life goes on day after day, largely unnoticed.
But these journal articles show that we’re making progress in many areas related to maternal and newborn health. In the coming week we’ll have blog posts from several of the authors about highlights from the series.
A couple of the articles stood out to me.
One sums up the incredible advances that were made in the year 2010. This year has seen unprecedented attention to women’s and children’s health, culminating in the launch of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health at the UN Summit in September in New York City. I attended the launch event and am personally committed to seeing that this momentum continues.
Another article sums up the latest research on how hypothermia affects newborn babies. Last year, I visited Malawi and got to see mothers practicing something called kangaroo mother care, or skin-to-skin care. It’s one of nature’s most simple and cost-effective methods of keeping babies warm and preventing life-threatening infections. As a mother, I know the power of the bond you form when you hold your newborn baby close.
During my trip to Malawi and another one to Uttar Pradesh, India, I also witnessed the importance of social and behavioral change in saving newborn’s lives, and one of the journal articles describes how the science of behavior change is evolving. For example, a new framework for behavior-change interventions for newborn health is based on analyses that draw lessons not only from public health but also from the private sector.
So there is encouraging news. We have the potential to achieve even more, and one day see that mothers and children everywhere have the chance to live a healthy, productive life.