SOURCE: Save the Children

Save the Children

January 14, 2011 18:30 ET

Save the Children: New Lancet Study Proves Reducing Newborn Deaths Achievable, Sustainable

Training Existing Health Workers Could Save 100,000 Newborns Yearly in Pakistan Alone

WESTPORT, CT--(Marketwire - January 14, 2011) - A Pakistan-based study to be published Saturday in the Lancet achieved a significant drop in newborn deaths and could be widely applicable in high-mortality countries, Save the Children and other authors said.

More than 3 million newborns die annually. Well-known lifesaving interventions remain out of reach for most mothers and newborns in developing countries.

The research trial didn't rely on technology, instead introducing counseling on newborn health practices into Pakistan's public health system in the rural district of Hala. As a result, newborn mortality and stillbirths there dropped 15-20 percent in two years.

"This study shows, for the first time, how proven newborn health interventions can be integrated effectively into an existing public health system. That means these kind of lifesaving results are sustainable," said lead author Zulfiqar Bhutta of Aga Khan University.

Researchers trained Pakistan's "lady health workers" in Hala to provide group counseling on maternal and newborn care, partner with traditional birth attendants and make home visits to teach simple newborn care. Practices included early and exclusive breastfeeding, delayed bathing and recognizing early signs of serious newborn illness.

"In Pakistan, nationalizing these simple measures could save 100,000 lives a year," Bhutta said. "Far more babies could be saved globally. Large countries with high newborn mortality -- such as India and Ethiopia -- have similar cadres of community health workers that could adopt these methods."

Under-5 deaths have declined substantially in recent decades, unlike newborn deaths. These now comprise more than 40 percent of 8.1 million annual child deaths.

Save the Children CEO, Charles MacCormack, called the Hala study "groundbreaking," adding:

"A growing proportion of child deaths occur in the first month of life. This remarkably hopeful finding shows it doesn't have to be this way. We urge governments and their partners to adopt this low-tech, high-impact strategy. It can save large numbers of newborn lives, and do so quickly."

The Hala trial was funded by the World Health Organization and Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives program, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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