Simple Steps Can Save Millions of Newborn Lives

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The latest estimate is that more than three million babies die each year within the first month of life. A report says this is down from 4.6 million deaths in two thousand nine. Still, newborn babies represent about forty percent of all deaths in children under five years old.

Experts say five countries have the lowest newborn survival rates: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo. India has one-fourth of all deaths within the first four weeks after birth.

The report is from the private humanitarian group Save the Children and the World Health Organization. Dr. Joy Lawn from Save the Children says simple actions can help save lives.

JOY LAWN: “Not delivering the baby onto a dirty surface, drying the baby, keeping the baby warm and feeding the baby straight away resulted almost in a halving of the newborn deaths in a very rural area in India.”

Field studies show that these simple steps could prevent at least two-thirds of deaths in newborns each year. Dr. Lawn says having trained medical workers present would also save many babies and mothers.

JOY LAWN: "If you had the health workers with the right equipment and the right drugs in these settings, definitely maternal deaths, neonatal deaths, child deaths, could be halved.”

And the equipment does not have to be complex. A student team at Rice University in Houston, Texas, developed a low-cost device to assist newborns with breathing problems. The device is called infantAIR. The researchers plan to test it at a hospital in Malawi, then develop training programs for nurses and hospital technicians.

The World Health Organization estimates that about fifteen hundred pregnant women die each day, or about one a minute. Millions of others suffer infections or injuries from pregnancy and childbirth.

A recent conference in Washington presented winning ideas in a competition called "Saving Lives at Birth." There were more than six hundred entries. The top honors went to Dr. Michelle McIntosh and her team at Monash University in Australia.

They plan to manufacture a dry powder containing the drug oxytocin. Oxytocin reduces the bleeding after birth that causes twenty-five percent of all maternal deaths. The powder would be used in a spray that the mother could inhale into her lungs.

The contest organizers included the US Agency for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

There is evidence that programs to reduce newborn deaths are starting to make progress, especially in parts of South Asia. But progress is slower in Africa. The new report says Africa could need more than one hundred fifty years to reach the current survival rates in the United States or Britain.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report. I’m Jim Tedder.

Contributing: Vidushi Sinha

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