Almost a year ago, I held my beautiful baby boy in my arms for the very first time. I was captivated and mesmerized by his wrinkled skin, his bright eyes and his innate ability to feed from me, taking in all the nourishment he needed in those early hours. As the days and weeks went by, I watched him grow, become more alert and attentive and attempt his first smile. Nothing could have prepared me for this unbelievably wonderful experience.
But, having travelled to, and worked in, some of the poorest countries in the world, there has not been one moment that I have taken the precious life of my baby for granted. I am among the privileged of the world; able to enjoy him free from the worry of death lurking just around the corner.
Newborn deaths now account for at least 44% of deaths among children under the age of five globally, resulting in 2.9 million lives lost each year. Another 2.6 million babies die in the last 3 months of pregnancy or during childbirth (stillbirths). Every Newborn, 2014
These shocking statistics necessitate strong action. Spring boarding from the dialogue and momentum created in recent months by the State of the World’s Mothers and State of the World’s Midwifery reports and The Lancet’s Every Newborn and Midwifery series’, the Every Newborn Action Plan was launched yesterday at the 2014 Partners’ Forum. Recognizing the inherent connection between the health of a mother and her baby, the Plan is a “roadmap and joint action platform for the reduction of preventable newborn mortality”, and is hoped to contribute towards the advancement towards Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 – a goal which is seeing slower progress than MDG 5 (associated with maternal health). There are 3 main causes of newborn deaths worldwide; infections (including sepsis/pneumonia, tetanus and diarrhoea), pre-term birth, and birth asphyxia. Low and middle income countries bear the greatest burden of newborn mortality and shockingly, two-thirds of all global newborn deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Every Newborn Action Plan sets out 5 key strategies to tackling newborn mortality:
1. Strengthen and invest in care during labour, childbirth, and the first day and week of life.
2.Improve the quality of maternal and newborn care.
3. Reach every woman and every newborn to reduce inequalities.
4. Harness the power of parents, families and communities.
5. Count every newborn through measurement, programme tracking and accountability.
There is no doubt that implementation of these strategies will be challenging. The Every Newborn Action Plan highlights the vital role that a wide range of stakeholders have to play – from governments to civil societies and health service providers to the business community, to name but a few. It was good to see that the first guiding principle of the Plan emphasizes the responsibility that countries and communities themselves have for ensuring that the health of their newborns improve. Ultimately, this will result in long-lasting and sustainable change.
Communities’ participation in the planning, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes that affect them is a central feature of such leadership and one of the most effective transformational mechanisms for action and accountability for newborn health. Every Newborn Action Plan, 2014
The platform for implementation of the Plan will be maternal and child health services, with a particular focus around care during birth and care of the small or sick newborn, in the context of universal coverage and quality care. Newborn mortality was not mentioned explicitly in the Millennium Development Goals and there is a risk that this may also be omitted from the Sustainable Development Goals for the Post-2015 agenda. In light of that, a strong commitment to achieve a reduction in newborn mortality is required, with key stakeholders working together to overcome bottlenecks to progress at every stage of the way. It is all too easy to shift our attention onto the statistics, plans, strategies and goals themselves. But let’s continue to remember what this is all about; to mothers, families and communities around the world, the life of Every Newborn matters immensely.