Newborn Health: Past and Future

Maternal and child health (MCH) has for long been recognized as a biological, epidemiological and programmatic continuum. Yet, newborns, the most vulnerable of all children, fell through the territorial gaps of safe motherhood and child survival programs for long. No one seemed to notice that neonatal deaths comprised close to half of the under-5 child deaths worldwide. Neonatal health remained a neglected priority. While both the safe motherhood and the child health groups ‘claimed’ the neonates, the basic understanding of the causes of their mortality, interventions that save them and what needs to be done on scale eluded the global health community. Neonate was thought to be an appendage of the mother, and antenatal tetanus toxoid immunization the ultimate magic bullet for neonatal survival.

Unbelievable though it may seem today – this was the prevailing wisdom just a decade ago!

But a total turn around, a proverbial ‘paradigm shift’, favouring newborn health took place in less than five years . The World Health Report 2005 (released on the World Health Day, 7th April 2005, in Delhi), changed for ever the lexicon of MCH to MNCH (Maternal, Newborn and Child Health), bringing neonatal health under spotlight ever since. Today, newborn health is recognized as the key to child survival, and a critical pre-requisite for MDG 4 attainment.

How did it come about? I had a unique privilege to witness the transformation of newborn health from an unknown, and poorly understood, issue to a global priority from the ringside. There were several reasons for this change – but a critical one was the power of partnership. In 2001, Saving Newborn Lives, Save the Children, formed the Healthy Newborn Partnership (HNP), an informal network of newborn health stakeholders, national and global. HNP became a rallying point for sharing scientific information, for building consensus on policy and programmatic issues, and for launching evidence-driven advocacy. Soon HNP found champions and advocates in key positions in the international health system, and in countries, both in north and south. HNP promoted the Lancet neonatal health series, a game-changing initiative. HNP also served as a repository of resource material on newborn health. By the time, HNP along with other partnerships, coalesced into Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) in 2005, it had served its principle purpose of catapulting newborn health to a highly visible trajectory.

At the launch of HNN, we salute each member of the extended fraternity of HNP, and its stellar leadership, for their vision and work.


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