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March 3, 2005

Low-Cost Measures Could Prevent 72 Percent Of Newborn Deaths Worldwide

Nearly 72 percent of the 4 million newborn babies that die each year worldwide could be saved by implementing 16 simple, cost-effective interventions, according to a study published in the March 11, 2005, print edition of The Lancet. The study is the second in a four-part series of articles on newborn survival produced by a team of international health and development agencies and made available online March 3. Some of the cost-effective measures identified by the researchers include providing tetanus vaccinations for pregnant women, delivering babies in a clean environment, exclusively breastfeeding infants, providing extra care for low-birth-weight babies and antibiotics for neonatal infection.

“Nearly 40 percent of all child deaths worldwide occur in the neonatal period, or the first month of life, and three quarters of those deaths occur within the first week of life,” said Gary Darmstadt, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and senior research advisor for the Saving Newborn Lives Initiative of Save the Children/USA. “Early success in preventing neonatal deaths is possible, even in settings with high mortality and weak health systems. Outreach services and family-community care, aimed to improve home care practices, raise demand for skilled care and increase care-seeking for illness can have a dramatic impact.” According to Dr. Darmstadt and his co-authors, outreach services and family care alone could prevent 35 percent of neonatal deaths.

While effective interventions are available, coverage is particularly lacking during the early days of life in many countries. The study estimates that effective interventions provided during the period immediately following birth may avert as many deaths as proven interventions implemented during childbirth, but at half the cost.

“Community-based initiatives that engage and empower communities, and promote the adoption of evidence-based maternal and newborn care practices could go a long way towards reducing neonatal mortality worldwide. In order to achieve the kinds of reductions that are needed to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal for child survival by 2015, however, we must simultaneously strengthen and expand clinical care for both mothers and babies,” said Dr. Darmstadt.

“Evidence-based, cost-effective interventions: how many newborn babies can we save?” was written by Gary L. Darmstadt, Zulfiquar A. Bhutta, Simon Cousens, Taghreed Adam, Neff Walker and Luc de Bernis for the Lancet Neonatal Survival Steering Team.

Funding was provided by Save the Children/USA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through grants from the World Health Organization, and by the Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition, Global Health Bureau of the United States Agency for International Development through grants to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe at 410-955-6878 orpaffairs@jhsph.edu.