Helping Babies Breathe: a Celebration of Newborn Lives Saved

Emily looked down to greet her child, a baby boy, and saw a limp, lifeless body. What should have been a moment of great joy turned into a terrifying struggle to breathe life into her newborn son. Nurse Mary Wekesa dried Baby Job vigorously, cut the umbilical cord, transferred the limp newborn to a dry blanket, and wrapped the motionless baby in the blanket, leaving his chest exposed. She placed a circular rubber mask over his bluish mouth and nose and squeezed a bulb-like attachment that made his chest rise and fall as air inflated his lungs. Suddenly, the loud cries of baby Job rang through the maternity ward.

Childbirth is natural – yet so much can go wrong. Before 2009, almost 1 million babies died because they were unable to breathe at birth. Five years later, that has gone down to 660,000 deaths (despite an increase in the number of live births), in large part thanks to innovative partnerships such as Helping Babies Breathe and other factors such as a global reduction in maternal mortality. And the potential is huge. In Malawi, the HBB program has trained 60 percent of skilled birth attendants to resuscitate newborns and equipped 88 percent of health facilities thus bringing Malawi closer to the goal of having at least one person who is skilled in neonatal resuscitation at the birth of every baby. Each of us can play a part in taking Helping Babies Breathe to the furthest corners of the earth – so that all babies have a chance to take their first breath of life.

We are proud to launch the five year report of HBB in Norway, hosted by one of our founding HBB partners, Laerdal Global Health. The report [see here] highlights how a public-private partnership is saving babies like Emily’s in over 70 countries around the world.

Since its introduction in 2010, more than 300,000 health providers in over 70 countries have adopted this simplified approach to resuscitating newborns who are not able to breathe at birth.

My colleague Lily Kak, USAID’s Senior Advisor for Global Partnerships and Newborn Health and an author of the report, writes eloquently: “HBB brings two people together – the newborn and the clinician – in a dramatic moment of life and death when much depends on the clinician’s ability to perform as s/he was trained.”

The HBB progress report highlights the importance of strengthening health systems as a key to long-term success and impact. We started with resuscitation to help babies breathe – using the best of public and private sectors to develop a practical, replicable program. Now we seek to build on those efforts to add additional modules and help babies survive and thrive.

HBB has implemented USAID’s premier model for public-private partnerships, or global development alliances (GDAs), to improve social and economic conditions in developing countries. GDAs provide a means of working effectively with professional associations, NGOs, faith-based organizations, and the corporate sector. HBB clearly illustrates the power of partnership in harnessing the resources, strength, influence and networks of partners towards the achievement of a common goal.


USAID would like to congratulate Laerdal on their 75th anniversary and recognize all of the partners of the Helping Babies Breathe Global Development Alliance on the first five years of astounding success. We look forward to many more!

Katie Taylor
Deputy Assistant Administrator
US Agency for International Development

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