In the developing world, a baby’s first day of life is often the most perilous.
Roughly 3 million newborns die each year, the nonprofit Save the Children reportedTuesday. Most of these deaths occur in the first week of life, and more than 1 million babies pass away within 24 hours of being born.
Although the report calls for some big changes in health care systems to prevent newborn deaths, it also says that some simple, inexpensive things could save many lives.
For instance, teaching mothers to hold their newborns against their skin — a technique called kangaroo care — could help many babies survive. Washing umbilical cords with an antiseptic could reduce infections among newborns. And a little training for midwives could prevent thousands of babies from being strangled by umbilical cords during delivery. There are also easy ways to revive many infants that aren’t breathing.
For the first time, Save the Children ranked 176 countries in terms of the risk of a baby dying within 24 hours after delivery.
Guess what countries ranked at the bottom?
Photo by Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images. Chart from Save the Children.
World Prematurity Day 2012: Interview with Save the Children’s Joy Lawn
In the late 1970s, in Bogota, Colombia, Dr. Edgar Rey and colleagues developed a way to replace incubators, which were expensive and out of reach in a public hospital. They thought about the basics. What is the purpose of an incubator? It is to keep a baby warm, oxygenated and nourished — to simulate as closely as possible the conditions of the womb. There is another mechanism for accomplishing these goals, Rey reasoned, the same one that cared for the baby during its months of gestation. Rey also felt, something that probably all mothers feel intuitively: that one reason babies in incubators did so poorly was that they were separated from their mothers. Was there a way to avoid the incubator by employing the baby’s mother instead?
What he came up with is an idea now known as kangaroo care. Aspects of kangaroo care are now in use even in wealthy countries — most hospitals in the United States, for example, have adopted some kangaroo care practices. But its real impact has been felt in poor countries, where it has saved countless preemies’ lives and helped others to survive with fewer problems.
Read more (The New York Times)