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Invest in midwifery to make progress

Posted: 20 May 2014 by Julie Griffiths

Investment in midwifery is needed to make progress on neonatal mortality around the world, the RCM has said in response to a series of papers on newborn survival that is published in The Lancet today (20 May).

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The five papers have looked at the progress and challenges in improving newborn survival across the globe.

The study authors said that almost all of the 5.5million newborn and stillborn babies who die each year enter and leave the world without a record of their existence.

The research has shown that preterm babies are less likely to be counted, even in rich countries, especially where they are not expected to survive.

The lack of registration is cited as a key reason for slower progress in recent decades for newborn deaths compared to maternal and child mortality reduction.

One of the lead authors, Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta at Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, said that many of the deaths were preventable.

‘Our research shows that three million lives can be saved by 2025 if achievable interventions are scaled up to nearly universal coverage, and improving care at the time of birth gives a triple return on investment saving mothers, newborns and stillbirths. 

‘Care of small and sick newborns is the next highest impact package, yet this has received little attention up to now, despite extremely cost effective solutions such as antenatal steroids and kangaroo mother care,’ said Professor Bhutta, who also works in Aga Khan University, Pakistan.

The research has involved collaboration with more than 54 experts from 28 institutions in 17 countries.

The findings have provided the evidence base and foundation for the forthcoming Every Newborn Action Plan – an evidence-based roadmap towards care for every woman, and a healthy start for every newborn baby, to be launched next month.

Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the RCM, said that many of the deaths were due to complications in pregnancy.

‘Many of these deaths could be prevented with skilled care before, during and following birth. The hope was that Millennium Development Goal 4 would help to reduce childhood mortality, but we realise as we approach 2015 this goal will not be achieved,’ she said.

She added that greater investment in the midwifery and skilled birth attendant workforce was required with 350,000 more midwives urgently needed across the world.

Jacque added that there was also a need to invest in the education of women.

‘Education empowers women. It enables them to make more knowledgeable and informed decisions about their future and to fight for equality and fairer treatment in their country,’ she said.

Read the five papers here:

  1. Global progress in preventing newborn deaths and stillbirths hindered by inadequate investment, leadership, measurement and accountability
  2. New figures on global newborn deaths and stillbirths reveal 5·5million 'invisible deaths' every year
  3. Analysis reveals triple return on investment to save three million mothers’ and babies’ lives annually
  4. First ever consultation of countries with highest newborn death rates underlines urgent need for more investment, medicines, and health workers
  5. Action plan will provide blueprint for progress, but preventable newborn deaths will be eliminated only with political commitment