Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

New Report: A Decade of Change for Newborn Survival

June 12, 2012

How do we help the next newborn, and all of the newborns brought into this world, survive--particularly in a low to middle income country where he or she is much more likely to die than his or her counterpart in a wealthy nation?

As Winston Churchill said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

A new series launched today—the first of its kind analyzing newborn survival in multiple countries around the world—looks at the enormous advances made in children’s health as the deadline for Millennium Development Goal 4, on child survival approaches. "A decade of change for newborn survival (2000-2010): a multi country analysis of progress towards scale" in the Health Policy and Planning journal, produced by Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Live program, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with over 150 contributors (mainly in-country partners), involved three years of work analyzing multiple countries assessing progress compared over the last decade, and what is needed to “bend the curve.”

The agonizing part for me is that despite the advances in child health, we have only scratched the surface of what can and needs to be done for babies in their first 28 days of life.

Today many more children have a greater chance of seeing their fifth birthday than a couple decades ago; great advances have been made in the care available for infants and children. But the first month of life is still an enormously risky time for children. More than three million babies die within the first month of life each year, 98 percent in low and middle income countries. But a decade ago, it was estimated at about 5 million.  

Improvements are being made, but not fast enough. 

The agonizing part for me is that despite the advances in child health, we have only scratched the surface of what can and needs to be done for babies in their first 28 days of life. As a result, millions of newborns continue to die needlessly every year, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

This series digs deeper into the experiences of a few countries that have shown great progress in improving newborn health, and uses these as case studies for scaling up achievements to other areas. What these articles highlight is that no cookie cutter approach exists to save newborns. Social, cultural, and political contexts are different in each community and must be taken into account when designing interventions to save the lives of newborns.

There are some principles, though, that we can systematically apply. We know from the study what’s been successful thus far: political commitment and policy change, social and behavioral change at the family level, and the importance of frontline health workers to deliver life-saving interventions at the community level.  

With this insight from looking backward, now is the time to look forward and take successful interventions to scale—but scaling up to create lasting, positive impact on many lives.

There is a reason this blog site is called “Impatient Optimists.” It is reflections like the ones presented in this first-of-its-kind series that give me hope and optimism that we have the knowledge and tools to give newborns more chance at survival. What we need, however, is to act together urgently – impatiently – and collaboratively as a global health community to accelerate and disseminate these successes. We need to all be impatient optimists to give the next newborn, and the newborn after that, a better chance of survival.

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