WASHINGTON – Low-cost medical care,including tetanus immunizations,breastfeeding,clean delivery practices and antibiotics,could wipe out nearly three fourths of newborn deaths worldwide,a medical journal reports.
In a series of papers released Thursday by the British medical journal Lancet,researchers said newborn deaths fall disproportionately on the world's poor countries,where 99 percent of the cases occurred. Yet high-technology solutions were geared to prevent the 1 percent of deaths that occur in rich countries.
The research,which consists of four articles,found that it was more cost effective to address newborn health through maternal care and child-survival programs than through a separate program.
About 4 million newborns die annually.
“The numbers are colossal. It is like one Asian tsunami hitting the world once every two weeks,” said Dr. Vinod Paul,a pediatrics professor at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and one of the series authors.
Paul said the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality by two-thirds could not be met unless international aid agencies do more on neonatal deaths,especially in Africa and South Asia.
He said the three major causes of neonatal deaths – infections such as tetanus and pneumonia,premature birth and birth asphyxia,or childbirth-related complications – which occur during life's first month,could mostly be prevented with access to simple preventive measures and treatments.
Faith McLellan,Lancet senior editor,said neonatal tetanus,which kills about 250,000 babies each year,could be prevented with two 20-cent injections for a pregnant mother.
A high proportion of deaths from infection also occurs in babies with low birth weight,less than 5.5 pounds,most of whom were born prematurely,McLellan said. But she said that most infections could be treated with 25 cent antibiotics.
Simple cleanliness during delivery,including use of clean cloths and medical instruments,can also make a big difference.
McLellan said birth attendants should be trained on newborns' special needs,including immediate breastfeeding and staying warm through skin-to-skin contact with the mother.
However,60 million women worldwide deliver babies without skilled attendants,Paul said. He added that countries such as the United States and United Kingdom,which draw doctors from poorer countries,should consider sending doctors and other medical professionals overseas or providing training in poor countries.
“It is time for government and assistance agencies to take joint responsibility to reduce the needless deaths of women and children,” said Anne Tinker,director of Save the Children USA.
She said political commitment and human and financial resources were some of the requirements to “turn what we know into action.”
Paul said babies' survival is not dependent on expensive equipment or medicines but on “proven interventions.”
“The pain and loss that people feel in poor countries are the same pain and loss people in rich countries feel,” Paul said.
The papers will be published over four weeks,but the four articles and a number of related papers are available at http://www.thelancet.com