CEO & President of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles, Talks Preventable Maternal and Newborn Death

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By: Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Yesterday, Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, added her influential voice on the Huffington Post Blog in her article, Can a Village Revolution for Mothers and Newborns Go Global? This article, focused on how we can decrease preventable maternal and neonatal death, comes at a critical time for maternal and newborn health. Today and yesterday, world leaders convened in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the 3rd annual PMNCH Partners’ Forum to discuss strategies and funding to improve maternal and newborn health.

Although low-cost effective interventions exist, countries where they are needed most have not been able to bring them to scale. Carolyn states:

Today babies in some of the world’s poorest, most remote communities are being saved through the use of low-tech interventions, such as a low-cost, hand-held device that can resuscitate babies who are not breathing at birth or an antiseptic gel that can prevent deadly infections when applied to the umbilical cord immediately after birth.

These interventions—and a number of others—have the potential of saving 1.9 million newborns and 158,000 mothers a year, while also averting 800,000 stillbirths, according to the latest estimates published in The Lancet last month. But the problem is this: So far no country in Africa or South Asia—where 80 percent of maternal and newborn deaths take place—has succeeded in delivering these high-impact, cost-effective interventions nationwide.”

So how can we bring these to scale to prevent maternal and neonatal death? Policy change.

Lately, policy change at the international and national level has caused increased commitment, planning, and access to life-saving interventions.

“Last month, when the World Health Assembly met in Geneva, health ministers from around the world took the historic step of making maternal and newborn health and stillbirths a top global health priority. The health ministers approved the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP), a roadmap to help countries sharpen their plans to reduce stillbirths and maternal and newborn deaths.

Even more importantly, many countries, including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi have already taken steps to change health policies that will help ensure that proven newborn interventions are made more widely available. In Ethiopia and India, for example, trained personnel at community health posts are now allowed to use injectable antibiotics to treat severe newborn infections when a hospital referral is not possible. In both countries severe infections are among the leading killers of newborns.”

With increased policy and programmatic change, we hope to see a great acceleration in the decline of maternal and neonatal mortality. This is especially important since neonatal mortality, death in the first month of life, currently accounts for 44% of all deaths of children under age five.

Seventy-five percent of maternal and neonatal deaths are preventable. The global call to action at PMNCH Partners’ Forum, of which Save the Children and MHTF are apart, will hopefully lead us to create a world where needless maternal and neonatal deaths are averted, and mothers and their children live healthy, productive lives.