World Health Assembly 2012
21-26 MAY 2012 | GENEVA
Note from Born Too Soon Briefing
22 MAY 2012 | GENEVA – More than 70 participants from 30 countries gathered at the World Health Assembly to discuss the new evidence on preterm birth emerging from Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Births. This report, which brings together the first-ever national estimates on preterm births, notes that there are currently 15 million babies born prior to 37 weeks every year and that the rates are rising. A preterm birth is now the second leading cause of under-five mortality, after pneumonia, resulting in 1.1 million deaths every year.
The breakfast briefing attracted a number of ministers and senior national policymakers to learn about new evidence presented by Dr. Joy Lawn, Director of Global Evidence and Policy at Saving Newborn Lives and a co-editor of the Born Too Soon report. Dr Lawn noted that prevention of preterm births can be accelerated through the implementation of preconception and antenatal care packages and childbirth care, including the use of antenatal steroids. Cost-effective interventions for the care of preterm babies include essential and extra newborn care, especially feeding suppor; neonatal resuscitation; Kangaroo Mother Care; management of premature babies with complications, especially respiratory distress syndrome, infections and jaundice; and comprehensive neonatal intensive care.
Speaking at the event, Professor Chen Zhu, Minister of Health of China, noted that while child deaths in China have fallen to 15.6 per 1000, making China one the countries to have reached Millennium Development Goal 4 ahead of the 2015 deadline, the country still experiences 1 million stillbirths every year. China has prioritized preterm births, including developing guidelines on the management of preterm birth and increasing the capacity of health workers. It is also seeking to improve women’s and children’s health through health sector policies that improve access to care and nutrition interventions as well as macro-level policies addressing social determinants of health.
Dr Charles Mwansambo, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Health of Malawi, noted that while Malawi has the highest percentage of preterm births in the world at 18.1% of all births, it has put in place a number of successful interventions to prevent preterm births and care for preterm babies, including Kangaroo Mother Care which has revolutionized care for the newborn and an increase in family planning. He noted the importance of addressing all factors contributing to preterm birth. He noted that Malawi as a member of the Scaling up Nutrition movement is addressing nutrition issues that exacerbate preterm births.
Also speaking at the event, Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General of the World Health Organization, outlined recent efforts to improve women’s and children’s health, including the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health; and the independent Expert Review Group, which will issue its first report in September 2012 on progress in implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. Dr Bustreo recognized the importance of a focus on preterm births in order to achieve MDG 4 and noted the many efforts underway to improve child health including nutrition.
Ms Ameri Goli, Under Secretary General at the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), highlighted the importance of civil society and the work of Red Cross Red Crescent in Guatemala, Cameroun, Honduras, Ghana and Afghanistan in improving the reach of interventions such as Kangaroo Mother Care. It is in part through the auxiliary role of the Red Cross Red Crescent to their governments in the humanitarian and development services and the global network of National Societies and their volunteers, that such interventions, including participation of men as husbands and leaders of their community, strengthens the global contribution to improved maternal, newborn and child health outcomes.
Dr. Ariel Pablos Mendez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health at USAID, introduced the forthcoming Child Survival Call to Action meeting in June 2012 in Washington, DC, as an initiative expected to contribute to the momentum of saving the lives of children, noting the centrality of a focus on newborns to improving child health outcomes.
This event was organized by PMNCH in collaboration with WHO, Save the Children and March of Dimes Foundation.
Dr. Ariel Pablos Mendez, USAID: “I was in Bangladesh in January and one of the health workers was proud that she could save lives with resuscitation and basic commodities that she had at her disposal. She was also tearful about all the lives lost previously that she thought she could not save.
20 years ago there were 13 million child deaths annually, now we are at 7.6 million. If we can get to 20 child deaths per 1000 by 2035, then we are in good shape. We expect this Call to Action to contribute to the momentum for saving lives of children.”