Opening Remarks by Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the Consultation on the draft Action Plan for Healthy Newborns in the Western Pacific Region 2014–2018

Hyatt Hotel Manila
18 March 2013

Ladies and gentlemen:

Welcome to Manila. We are here today to talk literally about the future of the Western Pacific Region — healthy newborn babies.

Specifically, we will discuss the many approaches included in the draft Action Plan for Healthy Newborns in the Western Pacific Region.

Seven years ago, WHO and UNICEF launched the Regional Child Survival Strategy for the Western Pacific Region .

Through your collective efforts, deaths among children younger than five were reduced by two-thirds — well before the 2015 deadline for reaching that Millennium Development Goal.

This was a tremendous accomplishment for the Region as a whole.

But the success story is not complete.

Reductions in child mortality are uneven between and within countries. And we still lose too many newborns to preventable diseases.

For example, we have made great strides in saving the lives of infants beyond 28 days of age.

But half of all deaths of children continue to be among newborns.

This is a staggering figure. And the reality is likely even worse because newborns have historically been undercounted.

In many countries, health facilities do not report newborn deaths that occur during the first hours of life.

In addition, newborns that die after a few days often are not included in the vital registration in many communities.

Even with incomplete figures, however, the message is clear: we must dedicate more resources on integrated maternal and newborn care.

As a start, professional courses should devote more time and content to immediate and essential newborn care.

The birth of a baby is usually met with great hope and expectations.

But the sad truth in our Region is that a newborn dies every two minutes.

This should not happen.

More than a century ago, we learnt what to do to keep newborns alive.

But substandard health workers practices often contribute to newborn illness and eventually death.

No expensive, high-tech solutions are needed. We can save many newborn lives simply by changing current basic practices.

Over the next few days, we will talk about how we can save thousands of lives by using bold but basic steps to protect every newborn.

This consultation provides an opportunity for ministries and health partners to focus on workable solutions and direct more energy and enterprise to achieve what we set out to do by the year 2015.

Investments in maternal and child health have high economic returns.

Some countries already know this. They have taken actions to protect newborns and are seeing improvements.

We applaud your efforts and pledge to help sustain and expand your work.

But sadly, maternal and child health programmes are chronically understaffed and underfunded in general in the Region.

Governments and international partners must match political commitment with resources to make a difference.

And we, in turn, need to be accountable — not only to our partners at the table, but also to every woman and child whose life may depend on our collective action.

Please keep these concerns foremost in your mind as you work together to finalize the action plan.

You have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the women and children of the Western Pacific Region.

Thank you.