Partners address issues of newborn health on World Prematurity Day (15 November ¦ Geneva, Switzerland)

15 November ¦ Geneva, Switzerland

In the lead up to World Prematurity Day, South Africa and the United Kingdom, together with UNICEF, The World Health Organization (WHO), The Partnership for Maternal Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), UNFPA and Save The Children co-hosted an event which brought together more 50 participants to discuss the actions needed by all stakeholders to prevent and care for babies born too soon. It also provided an overview of the Every Newborn action plan for missions and other stakeholders in Geneva.

Elizabeth Mason, WHO presented the key elements of the plan, pointing out that each year fifteen million babies are born premature – 1 of 10 children – and that prematurity is the direct cause of 35 % of all newborn deaths, making it the leading cause of newborn deaths. She added that simple low-cost interventions such as kangaroo mother care and antenatal corticosteroids can make a difference in saving preterm babies.

Marilena Viviani, UNICEF spoke of how important the issue of newborn health is to the agenda of UNICEF as part of its mandate and commitment. UNICEF she said, recognizes that more needs to be done, that there is a need for renewed action, commitment and attention to how the most vulnerable children are viewed in terms of equity. The equity angle she stressed was important and that the targeted approach towards the most vulnerable children would yield the best results-”If we miss the 20% of the most vulnerable children, we miss critically a lot of children in need.” She also spoke of the Every Newborn partnership which was the outcome of a strong consultative process with multiple stakeholders to share the issues and to work together towards their implementation.

Win Zeyar Tun representing the Permanent Mission of Myanmar in Geneva presented the situation in his country, where good progress has been seen in reducing child mortality and the MDGs could certainly be reached if more was done. This he believes can be achieved by understanding the causes of neonatal deaths, securing political commitments and having effective coordination through a national plan of action. Myanmar’s major input to reduce newborn mortality will be through investments in human resources and capacity building.

The United Kingdom Department for International Development representative (DFID), Gillian Mann, stressed that the United Kingdom is still committed to saving 250’000 newborn lives before 2015, but that this will only be possible by investing in the continuum of care – from pre-pregnancy to postnatal care. She said the Every Newborn action plan makes things clear: skilled birth attendants, partnerships, well-functioning health and reporting systems and addressing inequities are key to reducing newborn mortality.

Luc de Bernis from UNFPA also echoed the importance of looking at inequities between the poor and rich within the same country reminding the audience that risk of mortality for preterm babies is linked to the status of the family. He also spoke of the interlink between maternal and newborn health, pointing out that a phase of newborn mortality (time of birth and right after)was not making much progress because it was tied to maternal conditions which was also not making rapid progress. He added that if work was done in improving quality of care around pregnancy and child birth then there will be progress in reducing neonatal mortality.

He went on further to outline the three main issues to be tackled in order to improve maternal neonatal and child mortality including access to family planning particularly for youth and adolescent; access to competent health professionals such as midwives supported by competent health systems and emergency obstetric and neonatal care, with the need to monitor, using in particular the per-partum and immediate neonatal care mortality rate.

Carole Presern, Executive Director of PMNCH moderated the Q&A session and spoke of the shortfall in commitment to newborn health and prematurity. Referring to the 2013 PMNCH report’s special chapter on newborn health, she said that out of the 25 billion in financial commitment to the issues of RMNCH only 1% of this expenditure was for newborns. She urged the audience during the Q&A to reflect on how to create a movement to raise that money and spend it effectively on the right things.

To wrap up the discussion, Anita Bay Bundegaard from Save the Children presented the new Save the Children report “Lives on the Line” which addresses some of the key themes of the discussion such as equity and investment in health workers. She went on to highlight that leadership and partnership by and with major UN organisations and through them Member States, are key to the success of the Every Newborn action plan.

Dr Mason, encouraged all countries to make strong vocal statements on the Every Newborn action plan during the WHO Executive Board and the WHA next year. Ms Viviani added that this is a call for commitments and action by all stakeholders to address newborn health.


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