Why Parent Advocates Are Important to the Survival of Newborns

New mother Nalongo Tamale cares for her three-day-old twins, Kato
(boy) and Babiroie (girl), l to r, as they all receive care at Nakaseke
Hospital in Nakaseke, Uganda. She received antenatal care at the
hospital prior to her pregnancy and she plans to breastfeed both children.

Photo: Ian P. Hurley/Save the Children

By virtue of raising families, mothers and fathers know intimately and first-hand how fragile the lives of newborns are. In low- and middle-income countries where resources and trained health workers can be scarce, the chances of survival for newborns are drastically lowered. In fact, the mortality ratios in poorer nations stand in stark contrast to those in industrialized countries. More newborn lives, however, can be saved in through proven interventions that work effectively when performed by trained healthworkers.

This year saving the lives of newborns is front and center on the global political and development agenda and parents around the world are poised to lend their collective voice to this effort. The UNICEF-and WHO-led Every Newborn Action Plan draft is currently online to be read, shared, and commented upon by a vast coalition of constituents including parents, families, and communities. The plan seeks to provide a joint action platform in which to reduce preventable newborn mortality by scaling up quality care.

Why are the voices of mothers and fathers important to the Every Newborn Action Plan? Parents and families bring a fresh, new perspective to ensuring newborn lives are saved around the world. Shockingly, 2.9 million newborns lose their lives every year. What is particularly troubling is the vast majority of these deaths are wholly preventable.  It is a matter of providing the resources, training, care, health access, and health workers that will change the trajectory of newborn lives for the better, but it takes a plan first to ensure these interventions come through.

As a strategic objective, parents’ voices are being sought through February 28, 2014 for comment on the Every Newborn plan. I believe this inclusion is extremely critical given the lack of access everyday people typically have in shaping the lives and livelihoods of millions the world over. Parents’ voices matter like Jennifer Barbour’s who commented, “I think the continuum of care is key. The number of stillborn deaths was staggering to me. Access to skilled health care workers during pregnancy and even preconception can clearly make a big difference. Education around these options will be important, particularly in the harder to reach communities.”

Another mom, Lisa Van Engen wrote, “Kangaroo care is an aspect many mothers can provide, if given the opportunity. I think empowering women in this part of newborn care will continue to improve maternal and newborn health.

And a father wrote, “A very impressive effort. As a father of a son with a genetic condition, in the US he was identified and treated soon after birth, and is a strong healthy teen; in a less developed country, he would have simply died. We need to work toward a world in which all kids have the same chance to grow up, regardless of their birthplace.”

Your voice matters, too! Comments on the Every Newborn Action Plan are being accepted until February 28, 2014. Read the plan and make your voice heard.

Jennifer James is the founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good.

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