UN-backed global health conference seeks to save millions of newborns each year

A mother and her newborn baby at the Maternal and Child Health Training Institute for medically needy in Dhaka. UN Photo/Kibae Park

15 April 2013 – Scaling up existing interventions, such as using low cost medicines and exclusively breastfeeding after birth, could help save the lives of millions of babies each year, the United Nations said today as hundreds of health officials and government representatives gathered for the opening session of the first-ever Global Newborn Health Conference.

“The Global Newborn Health Conference can add to the growing global momentum as the effort to reach the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) enters its final stretch,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message delivered by the UN South African Resident Coordinator, Agostinho Zacarias, to the audience in Johannesburg.

“I count on you to build on this progress by taking bold and determined action now to save millions of lives in the future,” Mr. Ban added, pledging the continued support of the UN family, especially the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Representatives from 50 countries are participating in the four-day conference which will focus on scaling up low-cost, high-impact interventions that address the three major causes of newborn mortality: prematurity, birth asphyxia and infection.

Each year, three million children die within their first month of life from these three largely preventable or treatable causes, according to UNICEF, which assisted in organizing the event in collaboration with WHO and other partners.

“We need to act on the evidence available that clearly demonstrates that simple interventions for mothers and children work,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Geeta Rao Gupta. “We now need the political will to deliver and turn goals into lives saved.”

The conference aims to highlight the use of low-cost medicines, equipment and health strategies such as exclusive breastfeeding at birth. It also focuses on helping countries develop action plans designed to reduce the mortality rates of babies during the first month of their lives.

“I am heartened that you will launch the Global Newborn Action Plan, building upon two initiatives that work to advance the goals of Every Woman Every Child: the ‘Born Too Soon’ effort on preterm birth and the initiative, ‘A Promise Renewed’ for child survival,” Mr. Ban said in his message.

The Every Woman Every Child effort, launched in 2010, aims to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015 by mobilizing governments, multilaterals, the private sector and civil society to address the major health challenges facing women and children around the world.

A Promise Renewed is a UNICEF-led campaign to sharpen country action plans for child survival, rack and report the global progress of child survival strategies and generate momentum.


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