For the first time, chlorhexidine is being introduced into Liberia for cord care and will be included in the country’s essential medicines list. The policy change signed into effect earlier this month was facilitated by MCHIP and Save the Children (SC), with funding from USAID.
A freshly cut umbilical cord is an easy entry point for bacteria, with the potential for cord infection and even sepsis. However, chlorhexidine is being recognized as an extremely effective intervention to save newborn lives: if applied on the first day, it has been found to reduce newborn mortality risks by 23%.
Liberia is now proving its commitment to improving newborn health by approving 7.1% chlorhexidine digluconate (4% free chlorhexidine) for cord care, as well as endorsing the National Guidelines on Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) for the care of the country’s preterm babies. KMC is an easy and inexpensive intervention that effectively uses skin-to-skin contact to improve very small newborns’ chances of survival. This contact promotes warmth and regulates the baby’s temperature (including effectively preventing and treating hypothermia), encourages weight gain and uptake and duration of breastfeeding, and reduces infection.
According to a Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW) press release: “Chlorhexidine will be applied to the tip of the cord, the stump and around the base of the stump cord of all babies delivered in Liberia immediately after cutting the cord as with repeat application once daily until the cord separates; and the Kangaroo Mother Care guideline will be used by the policy makers, planners, implementers and partners to guide the establishment and implementation of Kangaroo Mother Care services at National, Regional, County and health facility levels to ensure survival and optimal development of preterm and low birth weight babies.”
In a setting like Liberia, where the neonatal mortality rate due to newborn infection is a staggering 27%, this is very hopeful news!