Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Every Newborn event: presentation of the action plan to end preventable deaths

15 November 2013, Geneva

In the past two decades, impressive progress in the survival of mothers and children under-five has been reached and has led to a global reduction in the child mortality rate. But looking closely at the picture, it appears that newborn deaths now account for 44% of all under-five child deaths and that prematurity is the leading cause of those.

Reduction of preventable newborn deaths should be the focus of efforts in advancing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and in order to provide everyone with a roadmap and joint action platform, an Every Newborn action plan is currently under development by a wide range of government, UN, and civil society partners. The plan will be presented at the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in January 2014, and launched in May 2014 during the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.

Participants at the Every Newborn event

On 15 November, linking up with UN World Prematurity Day, South Africa and the United Kingdom, together with UNICEF, WHO, PMNCH, UNFPA and Save The Children co-hosted an event to discuss the actions needed by all stakeholders to prevent and care for babies born too soon. It also provided an overview of the Every Newborn action plan for missions and other stakeholders in Geneva.

Participants at the Every Newborn event

Elisabeth Mason from the WHO presented the key elements of the plan and pointed out that each year fifteen million babies are born premature - 1 of 10 children - and that prematurity is the direct cause of 35 % of all newborn deaths, making it the leading cause of newborn deaths. Simple low-cost interventions such as kangaroo mother care and antenatal corticosteroids can make a difference in saving preterm babies.

Win Zeyar Tun from the Permanent Mission of Myanmarin Geneva presented the situation in his country, where good progress has been seen in reducing child mortality and the MDGs could certainly be reached if more was done. This can be achieved by understanding the causes of neonatal deaths, securing political commitments and having effective coordination through a national plan of action. Their major input to reduce newborn mortality will be through investments in human resources and capacity building.

The United Kingdom Department for International Development representative (DFID), Gillian Mann, stressed that the UK is still committed to saving 250’000 newborns lives before 2015, but that this will only be possible by investing in the continuum of care - from pre-pregnancy to postnatal care. The Every Newborn action plan makes things clear: skilled birth attendants, partnerships, well-functioning health and reporting systems and addressing inequities are key to reducing newborn mortality.

Participants at the every newborn event

Marilena Viviani, UNICEF, spoke of how important the issue of new-born health is to the agenda of UNICEF as part of its mandate and commitment, especially in light of “A Promise Renewed” to reduce by 20 or less under-five deaths in each country by 2035.

This means, first, giving children a healthy start and that new-borns are sheltered, breastfed, kept warm and shielded from diseases. UNICEF she said, recognizes that more needs to be done, that there is a need for renewed action, commitment and attention to how needs of the most vulnerable children are addressed to achieve Equity. The equity angle she stressed was important and that the targeted approach towards the most vulnerable children would yield the best results-”If we miss the most vulnerable children, we miss children critically in need.” She also spoke of the Every Newborn partnership which was the outcome of a strong consultative process with multiple stakeholders to share a vision, targets and objectives, and work together towards its implementation in the field.

UNFPA can help countries to address the issue added Luc de Bernis from the organization but it is the government’s role to send out skilled midwives in the poorest areas. He also said that the three strategies designed to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and disability are Family Planning, access to competent health professionals, midwives in particular, and emergency obstetric and neonatal care, with the need to monitor, using in particular the per-partum and immediate neonatal care mortality rate.

To wrap up the discussion, Anita Bay Bundegaard from Save the Children presented the new Save the Children report “Lives on the Line” which addresses some of the key themes of the discussion such as equity and investment in health workers. She went on to highlight that leadership and partnership by and with major UN organisations and through them Member States, are key to the success of the Every Newborn action plan.

Elisabeth Mason from WHO encouraged all countries to make strong vocal statements on the Every Newborn action plan during the WHO Executive Board and the WHA next year.

Marilena Viviani from UNICEF added that this is a call for commitments and action by all stakeholders to address newborn health.