Helping Babies Survive: Dr. Bill Keenan’s Travel Diary


A newborn baby is weighed on a weighing scale in a health facility located in a remote village in Bangladesh. Photo: Colin Crowley/Save the Children

This blog was originally published in Medium. Written by Dr. William Keenan.

After a long trip from St. Louis to Dhaka, Bangladesh, I finally made it to the Asia launch of Survive & Thrive’s Helping Babies Survive workshop! The workshop combines training in the Essential Care for Every Baby and Essential Care for Small Babies curricula and strategic planning for health systems improvement in the attendees’ home countries.

The goal of our week in Dhaka is to help strengthen health care professionals’ clinical skills and to build their advocacy skills so the participants and their colleagues can take a leading role in improving their nation’s health systems. I’m here to share my expertise as a physician and to build relationships with health professionals from across Asia.

None of my fellow American Academy of Pediatrics volunteers would be here without the Survive & Thrive Global Development Alliance partners, especially USAID’s Maternal and Child Survival Program who organized all the goings-on in Dhaka.

April 8

The opening ceremony featured a who’s who of the maternal, child, and newborn health leaders?—?including representatives from WHO, USAID and UNICEF. It was inspiring to see them support our launch and it was inspiring to see 80 different leaders representing seven countries involved in the Helping Babies Survive launch.

Here are some highlights:

First to speak was Dr. Bernadette Daelmans. Dr. Daelmans serves as Coordinator for Policy, Planning and Programmes, at the WHO’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.

  • Dr. Daelmans called for the elimination of all preventable maternal and newborn deaths.
  • Investing in skilled newborn resuscitation, improved post-partum care, universal breastfeeding and infant infection reduction will help get us there.
  • You can find Dr. Daelmans’ full presentation here.

Dr. Nabila Zaka of UNICEF spoke about the Every Newborn Action Plan.

  • Already, 23 of the 25 countries with the highest rate of neonatal mortality have developed an ENAP plan.
  • You can find Dr. Zaka’s full presentation here.

Senior Maternal and Newborn Health Advisor for USAID Dr. Lily Kak reported on the success of the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) program. HBB teaches health providers techniques for newborn resuscitation. The HBB curriculum set the stage for the Essential Care for Every Baby and Essential Care for Small Babies curricula.

  • 300,000 health providers in 77 countries have received Helping Babies Breathe training.

April 9

Dr. Altaf Hussain of the Ministry of Health, Bangladesh kicked off the first day of Essential Care For Every Baby (ECEB) training by describing the dramatic partnerships and investments that Bangladesh is making in newborn health. The government, universities, NGOs and professionals have teamed up in a commitment to fully implement Every Newborn Action Plan over the next two years.

ECEB training commenced with “leaders as learners” from nine Asian countries and 12 facilitators from four different countries (India, Bangladesh, Canada and the US). The polite, perhaps slightly skeptical, quiet at the beginning quickly transformed into bustling interactions as the participants joyfully mastered new skills and perceptions. The trainings will continue for another day and a half to include training in the Essential Care for Small Babies (ECSB). Attention will then be turned towards quality improvement, problem solving, and implementation over the last three days of this unprecedented meeting of Asian leadership in newborn health.?

April 10

The 78 learners and 13 faculty spent the morning completing the final portions of the Essential Care for Every Baby curriculum. Dr Nalini Singhal, course master, reminded the group of the many synergies and continuity among the Helping Babies Breathe, Essential Care for Every Baby and Essential Care for Small Babies courses. Conversations at many of the groups around the room were focused on training to performance, training the trainer constructs and transforming training to improved outcomes.

The afternoon sessions were devoted to the Essential Care for Small Babies curriculum. A tired but happy crew completed their day with discussion and practice of the problem solving approaches outlined in the “yellow” zone of the ECSB Action Plan. As the group broke for the day, the issues of implementation and quality maintenance and improvement were on the minds of many.


About the author

Dr. William Keenan is a professor in the department of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. He is considered a pioneer in the field of neonatal resuscitation and serves as co-chair of the Helping Babies Survive Planning Group. He also serves as executive director of the International Pediatric Association. Dr. Keenan has traveled to 14 countries to train health professionals in neonatal resuscitation and other life-saving interventions.

Survive & Thrive is an alliance of government, professional health association, private sector, and non-profit partners working alongside country governments and health professionals to improve health outcomes for mothers, newborns, and children through clinical training, policy advocacy, and systems strengthening.


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