Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What You Might Not Know About Saving Newborn Lives

March 22, 2013

How much do you really know when it comes to the unacceptable toll of newborn deaths, around the world?

Did you know that nearly 3 million newborns die each year globally?

Did you know that 99% of these newborns die in low- and middle-income countries? 

Did you know that a newborn is 45X times more likely to die in the first month of life, when compared to age 1 month to 5 years? 

Did you know that the major causes of newborn death are prematurity, infection, and birth asphyxia when a baby’s brain and other organs do not get enough oxygen before, during or right after birth are?

Did you know that complications of preterm birth are the second leading cause of death in children before their fifth birthday?

And, did you know that the majority of these newborn deaths can be prevented?

For too long these facts and more–what we call the global newborn health agenda–have been off the radar.  While the world has seen progress in addressing childhood illnesses in poorer countries, including pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea, we haven’t seen nearly as much progress in tackling newborn deaths, which now account for about 40 percent of the deaths of children under age 5 around the world. 

Newborn mortality rates should not be this high. We have proven interventions capable of dramatically reducing the number of newborns who die unnecessarily. For example, treating maternal infections during pregnancy can greatly reduce the chance of preterm birth and the risk of passing that infection to the baby. Kangaroo Mother Care maintains skin-to-skin contact between a baby and her mother, promotes exclusive breastfeeding, and provides life-saving warmth and protection from infection for the newborn. And something as basic as washing hands can do wonders for reducing infections. These are just a few of the known interventions that can give a newborn a fighting chance of surviving the first month of life.

What are we doing to raise the visibility of the newborn health agenda? From April 15-18 in Johannesburg, South Africa, individuals from around the globe will gather for The Global Newborn Health Conference to focus on how we take those interventions that save lives and encourage their use in regions of the world where newborns are most at risk of dying. And this conference is part of a larger, ongoing conversation on newborn health to generate action.

We need your help, however.

For the next 28 days – to mark the critical first 28 days of a newborn’s life – the neonatal period (when a baby is most at risk) Cyril Engmann and  I and others will be sharing “Did You Know?” facts about newborn health. Follow me on Twitter @gdarmsta, share the facts widely using #Newborn2013 and we can work towards saving newborn lives together.

The Gates Foundation is working with USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP), Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives (SNL) program and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in hosting this four-day conference.

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