Nearly 30 million premature babies need specialized care to survive, according to a new report by a global coalition that includes UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“When it comes to babies and their mothers, proper care can make all the difference,” said Omar Abdi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “Yet millions of babies and women are dying every year because they do not receive quality care which is their right and our collective responsibility,” he added.
The report, Survive and Thrive: Transforming care for every small and sick newborn states that newborn babies are at risk a of death and disability, complications due pre-mature birth, brain injury during childbirth, severe bacterial infection or jaundice along with those with congenital conditions.
The financial and psychological toll on their families can have detrimental effects on their cognitive, linguistic and emotional development. “Every mother and baby has to have a healthy start from the time of pregnancy, right through birth and the initial months post delivery,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for Programmes at WHO.
“Universal health coverage can ensure that everyone – including newborns – have access to the health services without facing financial hardship. Progress on newborn health care is a win-win situation as it saves lives and is critical for early development of the child thus impacting families, society and future generations,” he added.
Without specialized treatment, many 'at-risk newborns' won’t survive beyond the first month, according to the report. In 2017, some 2.5 million newborns died, mostly from preventable causes. Almost two-thirds of babies who died were born prematurely. The report also stated that even if they survive, they faced chronic diseases or developmental delays. In addition, an estimated 1 million newborns survive with long-term disability.
With care, these babies can live without major complications. The report shows that by 2030, in 81 countries, the lives of 2.9 million women, stillborns and newborns can be saved with smarter strategies.
Almost 68 per cent of newborn deaths could be averted in 2030 with simple fixes such as exclusive breastfeeding; skin-to-skin contact between the mother or father and the baby, medicines and essential equipment; and access to clean, well-equipped health facilities staffed by skilled health workers. Other measures like resuscitating a baby who cannot breathe properly, giving the mother an injection to prevent bleeding, or delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord could also save millions.
According to the report, the world will not achieve the global target to achieve health for all unless care is provided to every newborn. Without rapid progress, some countries will not meet this target for another 11 decades. To save newborns, the report recommends:
- Providing round-the-clock in-patient care for newborns seven days a week
- Training nurses to provide hands-on care working in partnership with families
- Harnessing the power of parents and families by teaching them how to become expert caregivers and care for their babies, which can reduce stress, help babies gain weight and allow their brains to develop properly
- Providing good quality of care should be a part of country policies and a lifelong investment for those who are born small or sick
- Counting and tracking every small and sick newborn allows managers to monitor progress and improve results
- Allocating the necessary resources, as an additional investment of US$ 0.20 cents per person can save 2 of every 3 newborns in low and middle-income countries by 2030