WHO calls for immediate steps to prevent newborn deaths

Kathmandu, December 14

World Health Organisation today urged the government and development partners to take urgent steps to prevent newborn deaths.

A press statement issued here today by WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia said that nearly 7,400 newborns die every day in the South-East Asia Region causing untold misery to mothers and families, even as two-thirds of these deaths can be prevented by adopting proven and cost-effective measures.

“Scaling up interventions with good quality care around the time of childbirth and during the first days after birth can substantially prevent complications and infections in newborns, which are the main causes of newborn deaths,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for WHO South-East Asia Region in a statement.

It said that WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank, UNAIDS and UNWOMEN have pledged to jointly support countries in the region to prioritise accelerated reduction in newborn deaths by ensuring equitable access to essential life-saving interventions for mothers and babies across the region.

“Each preventable death should be accounted for,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said in the statement, “Countries should review maternal and newborn deaths to improve health services to prevent such deaths in future.”

Focused efforts should be made to increase the health workforce  doctors, nurses and specially midwives  which remains critically low in many countries of the region, below the WHO recommended 23 per 10,000 population, the statement reads.

According to the statement, training midwives, mobilising sufficient and sustainable funding, and addressing inequities in health care interventions by reaching the unreached populations are among the other key interventions needed to reduce newborn deaths.

The health partners also pledged to address underlying factors like health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, and to empower women.

They also emphasised the importance of investing more in early childhood development and adolescent health to ensure good quality of life, health and well-being of newborns through a cross-sector collaboration approach.

Dr Khetrapal Singh said the region made significant progress in reducing deaths among children under the age of five years, as part of efforts under the Millennium Development Goals.

The under five deaths dropped by 64 per cent from 118/1000 live births in 1990 to 43/1000 live births in 2015.

However, the reduction in newborn deaths was slower in comparison, at 55 per cent during the same period  from 53/1000 live births in 1990 to 34/1000 live births in 2015.

Newborn deaths account for more than 50 per cent of under five deaths in the region, and remain a major factor for South-East Asia not achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing under-five deaths by two-thirds.

The region accounts for 30 per cent of global newborn deaths with Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar including Nepal as the high-burden countries, the statement read.

Prioritising newborn death reduction, WHO has setup a Technical Advisory Group comprising of 12 eminent global and regional experts, Dr Khetrapal Singh said under the new Sustainable Development Goals, one of the targets is to reduce newborn mortality to 12 per 1000 live births by 2030.

“This is an opportunity to take more strident actions that would end preventable newborn, child and maternal deaths,” it said.