WHO and UNICEF work to save 50 000 newborn babies each year in the Western Pacific Region

News release

WHO

The birth of a baby is usually cause for much hope and joy for families across the Western Pacific Region. Unfortunately, for far too many, happiness is short-lived as a newborn infant dies every two minutes in the Region. While there has been steady progress in the past two decades, much remains to be done to lower the number of deaths among newborn children.

“We are literally talking about the future of the Region,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, “No expensive high-tech solutions are needed. We can save 50 000 newborn lives every year by simply changing basic practices.”

In response to this call, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have released the Action Plan for Healthy Newborn Infants in the Western Pacific Region (2014–2020). This pioneering document presents crucial interventions focusing on the first three days of life. At its heart is the “First Embrace” – a call for a return to basics. The “First Embrace” between mother and child aims to provide a healthy start for every newborn baby in the Region and includes immediate and thorough drying followed by sustained skin-to-skin contact; appropriately timed cord clamping with a sterile instrument; and early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding.

“After thorough research, including collaboration with paediatricians, obstetricians, midwives and other health-care providers, we’ve observed that each of these four steps under the “First Embrace” has a major impact on improving the survival and health of newborn babies,” noted Dr Howard Sobel, Team Leader for Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. “Putting these steps together only multiplies their benefits.”

This action plan is part of a broader push by WHO and UNICEF for early essential newborn care (EENC) that seeks to eliminate harmful and outdated practices, and focus only on evidence-based practices. The actions and recommendations were the result of intensive consultations with technical experts and country teams that included ministries of health and academics, as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), WHO and UNICEF.

"The leadership of national governments is critical and we invite them and all concerned parties to work together; this plan shows the way forward towards a bright and healthy future for all our newborn babies," states Basil Rodriques, Health Advisor at UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

For the first time, this set of recommendations is being presented on a large scale across the Region. It is a call for governments and the public to champion newborn health. The “First Embrace” in particular seeks to modify decades of routine post-natal practice – such as unnecessary suctioning, delayed drying, separation from the mother immediately after birth and delayed breastfeeding. Significant behaviour change will be required by health-care practitioners and parents alike for the action plan to be successfully adopted regionwide.

A Promise Renewed

The regional action plan is also part of a broader global momentum around newborn health capitalizing on “A Promise Renewed” – a commitment by governments across the world to reduce preventable child deaths by 2035. The plan identifies five strategic actions toward this goal: ensure consistent adoption and implementation of EENC; improve political and social support to secure an enabling environment for EENC; ensure availability, access and use of skilled birth attendants and essential maternal and newborn commodities in a safe environment; engage and mobilize families and communities to increase demand for these approaches; and improve the quality and availability of perinatal information.

“We have a bold yet simple plan that can provide a healthy start for every newborn infant. Let us continue to work together to make a real difference in the lives of women and children in the Western Pacific Region,” concluded Dr Shin.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Howard Lawrence Sobel
Team Leader, Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9868
Email: sobelh@wpro.who.int

Dr Nabila Zaka
Maternal and Child Health Specialist
UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Office
Telephone: +662 356 9420
Email: nzaka@unicef.org

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int

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