Ending the scandal of newborn deaths

In the 1940s the British government created a Welfare State that promised to look after citizens from the “cradle to the grave”. This outlined a commitment to provide universal health coverage to all people, regardless of wealth, from the first moment of life until the last.

Unequal life chances

Returning home to the UK from the first Global Newborn Conference in South Africa, I was reminded of how unequal the survival chances of babies are because of where they happen to be born.

Last year, 3 million babies died in the first month of life. Around half of these deaths occurred on the very first day, and 2.6 million more babies were stillborn.

In the 21st century it is unacceptable that so many babies die.

Different standards

Almost all of these deaths happen in low and middle-income countries. More specifically, they happen in the poorest and most marginalised communities and where mothers have lower levels of education.

But if we applied the knowledge we have been using for decades in high-income countries to prevent newborn deaths, almost all of these babies could have survived.

If a woman becomes pregnant in the UK, she has access to skilled health workers who provide the care she needs before, during and after childbirth.

At the time of childbirth, if there are complications for the mother or baby, specialist health workers and equipment are available.

All services are provided free at the point of use so the cost of health care doesn’t deter the mother from seeking care as soon as she needs it.

A high quality of care is expected, and if it is not provided we have a right to complain. If a mother or child dies then it is perceived as the exception, even unacceptable.

Changing attitudes

These things we take for granted in countries like the UK are not the norm in all parts of the world.

Where newborn death rates are high, where quality services are not available, there is too often a sense of acceptance that this is just the way things are.

The vision of EVERY ONE, Save the Children’s global campaign for child survival, is that no child under the age of five should die from preventable causes, and that public attitudes will not tolerate unnecessary child deaths.

A global newborn action plan

That is why we are getting behind a Global Newborn Action Plan that will catalyse action to end preventable newborn deaths as part of wider efforts to improve the health of women and children.

On 7 May, Save the Children will be publishing our annual State of the World’s Mothers report, which will show the countries where babies have the best and worst chances of surviving their first day, and where we need to focus our energies.

Click here to find out more about the Global Newborn Action Plan and how you can contribute.

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