Category Archives: newborn health

Why Newborns are on the World Health Assembly’s Agenda


Today the 67th World Health Assembly convened in Geneva, Switzerland. On tap this week will be discussions about health issues ranging from climate change to tuberculosis. Also on the agenda is a key discussion about newborns and the draft of the Every Newborn Action Plan (item 14.2 on the agenda). You might remember that as a network of moms we helped provide comments on the draft plan earlier this year. Our comments along with other stakeholders – over 300 comments  in all — helped UNICEF, WHO and their  partners revise the Every Newborn Action Plan draft that will be discussed and presented to the assembly.

  • Three quarters of all newborn deaths occur in the first week of life. – World Health Organization

Why is there a need for an action plan to save more newborns? While the mortality rate for children under five has been effectively reduced by 50% between 1990 and 2012, the neonatal mortality rate deceased  far too slowly even though there are interventions that can save more newborns’ lives. Over the same time period neonatal mortality only fell 37%.  The vast majority of newborn deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries due to a lack of investments and quality maternal and newborn health care with 12 countries contributing to most newborn deaths. Most newborns die from one of three causes: prematurity, intrapartum-related neonatal deaths (including birth asphyxia) and neonatal infections.

  • Up to two thirds of newborn deaths can be prevented if known, effective health measures are provided at birth and during the first week of life. – World Health Organization

Causes for Child Mortality

The Every Newborn Action Plan lays out the ways in which more newborns can survive through robust continuum of care and provides a framework for countries to reduce their individual newborn mortality rates. The plan has an abitious goal to reduce newborn deaths t0 10 per 1000 people the world over by 2035. In order to reach these goals five strategic objectives have been outlined. The five objectives are  (1) strengthen and invest in care during labour, birth and the first day and week of life, (2) improve the quality of maternal and newborn care (3) reach every woman and newborn to reduce inequities (4) harness the power of parents, families and communities and (5) count every newborn – measurement, programme-tracking and  accountability.

The health assembly is invited to adopt the plan. Doing so will ensure that more newborn lives will be saved through interventions that work.

Follow for up-to-date information on the draft plan and follow #EveryNewborn on Twitter.


Save the Children Releases New Report on Motherhood in Conflict

This article was originally published on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists.

Every year Save the Children releases its annual State of the World’s Mothers report and each year a magnifying glass is held up to motherhood around the world and how mothers fare based solely on where they live. Now in its fifteenth year, Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report puts into clear perspective the countries where motherhood is best and worst. This year Save the Children focuses its attention on motherhood in crisis.

Devastating crises have popped up across the globe, some of them ongoing and others that are fairly new, relatively speaking. No conflict, of course, is beneficial for the health and welfare of mothers and their children. In fact, women and children are precisely the ones who tend to suffer most during times of civil unrest, natural disasters, and all-out wars. Internal conflicts break families apart, cause families to flee to neighboring countries to then become refugees, or they become trapped inside of their home country and internally displaced. Basic services such as food assistance and health care then become scarce causing undue damage to the lives of children and the mothers who take care of them. The same is true for natural disasters that can irreparably ruin families’ lives and livelihoods.

This year over 60 million women and children are in need of humanitarian assistance according to the report and Save the Children has responded to nearly 120 humanitarian crises in 48 countries. Mothers and children, therefore, who are trapped in fragile countries are more susceptible to death and disease. We already know that 800 women die in childbirth and 18,000 children under the age of five die as a direct result of preventable disease every day. Did you know that half of these deaths for both women and children occur in countries that are fragile meaning there is a lack of good governance and political stability that leaves a country’s citizens open and vulnerable to a range of disasters whether man-made or natural.

During any crisis situation expectant mothers are in particular perilous situations. Obstetric services are often halted save for rudimentary services that many not be equipped to save a mother’s life in critical situations, that is if a pregnant woman is lucky. She may have to give birth alone in the bush or in the back of truck fleeing across the border to save her life and the life of her newborn.

The lives of newborns, of course, are also at increased risk when a mother gives birth in high-intensity, crises situations where mothers worry not only about giving birth to a healthy baby, but also simply staying alive.

As aforementioned, when countries experience crisis situations ordinary citizens suffer most. Health systems suffer. Frontline health workers – even the most dedicated of them – may have to flee along with citizens to save their own lives. And furthermore, hospitals and health centers can become targets of destruction in civil unrest in order to hurt those who need the services most.

Consider the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) where sectarian violence has left nearly 3000 dead and hundreds of thousands of people homeless and without access to the most basic needs such as food, clean water, and sanitation. And now that the rainy season is nearing the hardships in people’s lives will be greatly intensified. It is no wonder that the CAR ranks 173rd in the report rankings.

“Nothing will stop a mother from trying to keep her children safe and protected,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, “But when disaster strikes, whether it’s a war in Syria, a tornado in Oklahoma or a typhoon in the Philippines, women and children are often at the greatest risk – up to 14 times more likely to die than men.  Fortunately, our evidence also shows we can save and dramatically improve the lives of mothers and children, even in the most challenging places to live, if we invest in the services they need.”

In Syria where the civil war has been raging on for four years 1.4 million children and nearly 700,000 women have fled the country, according to the report. There are now over 200,000 women and girls of reproductive age inside and outside of Syria according to the UNFPA meaning there will be an increased necessity for obstetric and newborn health care and family planning services. And, in the case of civil unrest, rape and torture of women and girls are often used as weapons of war exacerbating gender-based violence.

Even in the United States when a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy devastated the east coast, mothers and children with the least resources fared the worst amid the devastation and months of rebuilding. No matter the country or crises, women and children remain the most vulnerable communities to death, disease, abuse, and violence.

Through its report Save the Children is putting forth a reminder that in fragile countries the health of women and children remains a top priority and systems must be in placed to ensure they are not let down when they need help the most.

Read the full report at

Photo by Allessio Romenzi for Save the Children.

Last Minute Mother’s Day Gifts That Give Back and Save Lives

Mother’s Day is a celebration full of flowers, cards, and sentimental mementos. It’s also a day to celebrate not only our mothers and the moms we know personally, but mothers everywhere.

As you know there are women around the world who will lose their life giving birth. That may sound blunt, but the numbers say it all. 800 women will die today from birth complications that are largely preventable.

How can you help turn this statistic around this Mother’s Day?

Below are six organizations that are providing prenatal care, mobile obstetrics services, and safe births for women who otherwise might have to deliver alone at home without a trained health professional and without the tools and knowledge  she needs to stay alive. Your donation to any one of these organizations can help save a mother’s life.

motherhoodcollage 4
Motherhood in Zambia. Photos: Jennifer James

RESCUE GIFTS from the International Rescue Committee: $52 will help train a woman in Kenya become a midwife. Midwives are trained to save the lives of mothers and newborns. Around 800 women die each day from complications from pregnancy and delivery as aforementioned. By training women to become midwives, more women will live to care for their babies and families.

BRAC PRENATAL GIFTS: Saving lives is one of the most important gifts you can give to mothers who live in low-income, low-resource settings. Your Mother’s Day donation will provide prenatal health care for women in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Uganda where maternal mortality numbers are perilously high.

Motherhood in India, Zambia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Photos: Jennifer James

KANGU: Providing safe births is the sole purpose of one of our newest partners, You can help fund a mom’s safe birth for as low as $10.

MIDWIVES FOR HAITI: Reaching expecting mothers who otherwise can’t get to a hospital or health center to deliver their babies is the focus of Midwives for Haiti. Through its mobile clinic, midwives help women with safe and healthy births. $10 can save the life of one mother. Donate more and save more lives in remote Haiti.

MOtherhood Collage3
Motherhood in Zambia and Tanzania. Photos by Jennifer James

EVERY MOTHER COUNTS: Every Mother Counts provides a cross-section of maternal health services you can donate to in order to save a mothers’ life from providing a ride to a hospital where an expectant mother can deliver her baby to buying a solar suitcase for a health facility in Malawi.

SAMAHOPE: Samahope’s #HonorYourMom campaign is an easy way to show your mom how much you love her and also donate to safe births and other medical treatments for mothers. See all of the honored moms in Samahope’s #HonorYourMom gallery. Your donation goes directly to doctors who provide medical care in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

We hope you get inspired by the fantastic, life-saving work of these selfless organizations. They can use your help this Mother’s Day to prevent more mothers from dying just to give birth.


Have You Heard How Rice University is Saving Newborns?

Throughout the entire Mother’s Day month we will dedicate several posts to newborn and maternal health. We will feature programs and projects that are showing considerable progress in newborn health, are efficient and cost-cutting, and are even shaking up the newborn health and survival landscape with innovations in low-and middle-income countries. Even though it’s not May yet, we are happy to share with you what Rice University is doing in Malawi to save newborns.

Called the Day One Project, the neonatal unit at Malawi’s largest teaching hospital will be expanded thanks to a $100,000 prize from the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. The winners of the prestigious award, Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, donated their winnings to the newborn health project.

“We are accepting the prize on behalf of everyone at Rice and around the world who has collaborated to develop these innovative global health technologies,” Rebecca said. “We wanted to multiply the impact of the prize, so we decided to use the money to build a new neonatal ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi. We’re calling it the Day One Project: a neonatal unit that provides excellent care to the world’s most vulnerable babies, while serving as an innovation hub for affordable, high-performance technologies that can improve care for newborns throughout the region.”


Oftentimes when you visit hospitals and clinics in poor countries you find that what was once expensive medical equipment no longer works. Or, even worse, the equipment works, but nurses, midwives, and doctors haven’t been trained to use the equipment that can save a newborn’s life. Instead perfectly good equipment sits idle in a corner, never to be turned on or used. That is why Project Day One is promising. The Project Day One team is bringing on expertise from the entire Rice University community including physicians from Texas Medical Center as well as interventions that save newborns at a fraction of the price.

One of these technologies is a bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device that helps newborns breathe, the Day One Project said in a statement. “Costing less than $200, compared to $6,000 for commercially available bCPAP devices, Rice’s bCPAP device has been shown to significantly improve newborn survival. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, the device is now being implemented in all public hospitals in Malawi.”

The $100,000 award is seed money for the Day One Project. You can also donate to continue the program and keep newborns alive in Malawi by donating at