Speech of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the Vice Ministers’ Forum on Accelerating Progress in Early Essential Newborn Care

16 August 2017 — Da Nang, Viet Nam

His Excellency, Dr Viet Tien, Vice Minister of Health, Viet Nam
Other Vice-Ministers and high level representatives
Experts, colleagues, friends

Good afternoon. It is great to be in beautiful Da Nang, and I am delighted to be able to join you at this important Forum.

I would like to start my remarks by telling a very short story.

Not so long ago, a neonatal expert from Japan was visiting a hospital in Kampong Cham, in Cambodia, where Early Essential Newborn Care is being rolled out. The neonatal expert toured the maternity ward and met with new mothers and their babies.

The visiting doctor witnessed first-hand the impact that this simple package of interventions – provided immediately after birth – can have for all mothers and babies. At the end of her visit, the doctor said: “I’ve never seen so many pink, happy and healthy babies in my life!”

This brief story sums up why we are here today. Simply put, we want every baby born in the Western Pacific Region to be ‘pink, happy and healthy’.

Right now, a newborn dies every two minutes in this Region – that’s around 250,000 babies every year. Scaling up the implementation of EENC can help us to fix this problem, and save lives.

We know EENC works. The question before us today is how we can harness the political leadership and commitment required to make it available to every newborn baby in our Region.

Many countries represented here today have excellent experience to share. Our host country, Viet Nam, is one country leading the way.

Thanks to the national government’s strong leadership, EENC has been introduced to all 63 provinces in Viet Nam, and around 9000 health workers coached. EENC is now tied to hospital accreditation. As a result, almost 80 per cent of babies now receive skin-to-skin contact and are exclusively breastfed in the newborn period.

Cambodia has introduced an incentive scheme to encourage safe deliveries – and built on this to rapidly scale up the use of EENC throughout the country.

In the Laos People’s Democratic Republic, the government has committed significant funding to roll out EENC in all provinces, and made it a key priority in the national maternal and child health plan.

The Philippines now includes EENC and Kangaroo Mother Care in service packages provided through the national health insurance scheme. Earlier this year, I visited a birthing unit in the southern Philippines which is implementing Kangaroo Mother Care for pre-term babies, and was amazed at the impact this straightforward intervention can have.

Each of your countries has so many examples – which I know you will discuss further over the course of the afternoon and tomorrow. Indeed, there is a great deal of success which we should celebrate, and learn from.

Yet, there is still a great deal of work still to do. Every year, millions of babies are born across this Region without access to EENC – which means millions of lives are still at risk.

I hope this meeting will identify concrete ways of building and sustaining high-level commitment across this Region for improving maternal and newborn care. So many young lives are depending on it.

WHO stands ready to support these efforts in any way we can – including through the continued implementation of the Action Plan for Healthy Newborn Infants in the Western Pacific Region, agreed by Member States in 2013.

I very much look forward to hearing about the outcomes of your discussions this afternoon.

Thank you.