Published On: Wed, Sep 11th, 2013

Neonatal Alliance Locks in on Largest Contributor to Under-5 Death in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mother and child. Photo credit: MCHIP

Mother and child. Photo credit: MCHIP

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“ during September 10-12 in Panama.

Each year, over 121,000 babies in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) will die during their first month of life. Nearly a quarter of these neonatal deaths are due to prematurity and low birth weight; and these deaths are more likely to happen if the baby is born to a mother who is poor, uneducated, or lives in a rural area.

To prevent neonatal deaths and advance neonatal health in general, many of the LAC region’s ministries of health, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), several United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organizations, and professional associations (pediatric, obstetrics-gynecology, midwifery, and nursing), have formed a partnership in 2005 called the LAC Neonatal Alliance.

This regional Alliance provides an ongoing platform for active engagement in neonatal issues at the regional and national levels. It champions key initiatives such as the promotion of the Neonatal Integrated Management for Childhood Illness (IMCI) strategy, development of “Trainer of Trainers” workshops for neonatal resuscitation using the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) protocol, implementation of Kangaroo Mother Care, and creation of communities of practice for  the exchange of experience and dissemination of evidence-based practices. The Alliance model allows for quick action to address priority issues because of its organizational character: transparent and trusting collaboration, plus tightly defined and monitored goals that are supported by a shared annual work plan and budget. This structure has allowed the Alliance to make a significant impact on neonatal health in the LAC region.

An important example of the Alliance’s work involves the implementation of a low-technology, cost-efficient technique to save premature babies. Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which involves constant skin-to-skin contact between the newborn and his or her mother (or father), was developed in 1982 in Colombia in response to a lack of incubators. This simple intervention helps newborns regulate their temperature and other physiological processes – but its benefits have not been well understood until recently.  The intervention has been shown to reduce newborn mortality and morbidity in premature and low birth weight infants by approximately 50 percent more than traditional care. A recent USAID-funded study in Nicaragua found that use of KMC reduced hospital stays for newborns by four days, which results in less potential for hospital-acquired infections and allows the family to resume their normal life, including infant-related responsibilities, sooner, while saving an average of almost $400 per infant.

The Alliance has brought teams from 10 LAC countries to Colombia for training in KMC, and eight of these teams instituted training programs in their home countries to further disseminate KMC. Through this work, the Alliance is potentially reaching over 20,000 mothers and their infants per year.

With neonatal deaths remaining a major challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially among disadvantaged groups, the Alliance will keep this issue in the forefront and continue to push for universal adoption of life-saving interventions in the region.

For detailed information on the LAC Newborn Alliance and Kangaroo Mother Care visit the following websites: Kangaroo Foundation, Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, and the Newborn Alliance.

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