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Helping Babies Breathe in sub-Saharan Africa

By Stefanie Weiland

December 12, 2017

I want to live in a world where no child dies from a preventable cause.

There is no loss like the loss of a child. As a mom living in the United States, where medical interventions are readily available, it breaks my heart to look around the world and see thousands of mothers losing babies to preventable and treatable conditions. In 2016, 2.6 million children died in their first month of life and, today, 7,000 newborn babies will die. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Through my work at LifeNet International, where we train health workers to effectively treat the leading causes of death among newborns, I’ve seen first-hand the power that simple interventions can have in the lives of mothers and babies in sub-Saharan Africa. If we can provide health workers with training on interventions like proper neonatal resuscitation (CPR), we can save hundreds of thousands of babies every year. The World Bank estimates that we can prevent as many as 63% of deaths for children under 5, if healthcare providers put known, effective medical interventions into practice. Bringing existing interventions—like neonatal resuscitation (CPR)—to local healthcare providers in the developing world saves babies lives.

I’m so glad we received training on newborn resuscitation.

Our organization, LifeNet International, delivers this kind of training to local health centers in sub-Saharan Africa. These health centers are often ill-equipped to handle the estimated 10% of babies who will need help breathing immediately after birth. Unfortunately, many health workers in regions like sub-Saharan Africa are taught ineffective, and even dangerous, methods for helping babies breathe. A nurse in one of our partner health centers was previously taught that holding a baby upside down after birth could get them breathing again.

One of our LifeNet trainers provided this nurse and her coworkers with CPR training. Her newfound knowledge and skill transformed the care she and her fellow health workers provided for babies born in their facility.

“I’m so glad we received training on newborn resuscitation,” the nurse said. “With what LifeNet has taught us, we don’t have to hold the baby upside down. The CPR method is easier and allows the baby to receive oxygen and live. This past month, we successfully saved two newborns using the techniques we learned from LifeNet.”

Imagine knowing that we could prevent that grief for thousands of mothers around the world whose babies are dying from preventable causes? We can.

Global Goal 3 includes the aim to end all preventable newborn and child deaths by 2030. I want to live in a world where no child dies from a preventable cause, and I am confident that the key to achieving this aggressive goal rests in the equipped hands of local health workers. That’s why I am passionate about providing (CPR) training for local health workers.

Many of us mothers in the United States have lost or know someone who has lost an unborn baby. Some of us have lost or know moms who have lost infants and children and the incredible grief that follows any of these losses. Imagine knowing that we could prevent that grief for thousands of mothers around the world whose babies are dying from preventable causes? We can. I have witnessed the life-saving power of neonatal resuscitation training to end preventable newborn deaths and keep babies in their mothers’ arms—where they belong. Let’s work together to bring that training to health workers in sub-Saharan Africa.

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