THE BLOG

Five Steps to Give Every Newborn a Better Chance

09/07/2014 12:21 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

Newborn babies are incredibly vulnerable. Each year, nearly three million babies die within their first month of life - often from diseases such as pneumonia.

This number is unacceptably high. The better news is that with the right investments in training and educating health workers, by supporting innovative, low-cost treatments and technologies, we can help put a stop to these needless deaths.

The global health community is getting behind this challenge. Last week, I represented GSK at the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health forum in Johannesburg. This alliance of more than 500 reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health communities, hosted by the World Health

Organization, has been instrumental in galvanising action for newborn health.

Central to this is the Every Newborn Action Plan, launched last Monday. By bringing together the latest evidence on effective interventions in newborn health, it creates a roadmap to end preventable stillbirths and newborn deaths.

Delivering on this plan requires a broad group of partners from different sectors - including the healthcare industry, with its scientific knowledge, resources and scale - to work together. Only with this kind of support can we ensure that newborn babies get the best possible chance to grow up strong and healthy children; and ultimately become productive adults who can contribute to a healthier and more prosperous future.

As the conversation accelerates around how to shape sustainable development post-2015, this is an issue that should matter to all of us - in NGOs, government and elsewhere. In business, it matters to us too. By devising responsive and flexible business models, by using our resources to help build capacity, we can contribute to an environment where growth is sustainable and inclusive - where commercial success goes hand in hand with social change.

So here are the five steps that could help ensure every newborn gets the best possible chance at life:

Invest in the days before and after birth - According to the Every Newborn Action Plan, improving care around the time of birth and for small and sick newborns would save nearly three million lives each year at a small cost in 75 high burden countries. At GSK, we're working in partnership with Save the Children to help save the lives of one million children. Their expertise and experience has prompted us to think differently about how we can invest in these vital first few days. As a result, we are reformulating the antiseptic chlorhexidine - found in GSK's Corsodyl mouthwash - for cleansing the umbilical cord stump of newborns to prevent serious infection. Studies from South Asia suggest this could prevent up to 1 in 6 newborn deaths in less well-off areas.

Improve the quality of care - As the vast majority of newborn deaths occur in the world's poorest nations, especially across Africa and South Asia, development of local expertise is essential. Often the best solutions to the toughest challenges come from those living and working closest to them. Together with Save the Children, through our Healthcare Innovation Award, we are seeking out and helping to scale up simple innovative solutions devised in developing countries that can make a real impact on saving young lives. Last year we recognised Friends of Sick Children, Malawi. They developed a 'bubble' device that helps newborn babies in respiratory distress to breathe more easily. It's an adaptation of a similar device used in developed countries, but comes at a fraction of the cost.

Reduce inequities - When it comes to saving newborns, parents and babies need a straightforward route to services such as a clinic or frontline health worker and to the medicines they need. Charities like BRAC have done a brilliant job of providing easily accessible, safe care in the Bangladeshi slums. There is much to learn from their integrated approach. And when it comes to improving access to medicines, we play our part through working with partners; using flexible pricing models; and strengthening our supply chains to deliver medicines into remote and marginalised communities.

Harness the power of parents, families and communities - Creating a healthy home, family and community are vital to protecting the wellbeing of newborns and new parents. Community health workers have a crucial role to play here. At GSK, we're support the training of frontline workers through our commitment to work with three NGO partners to reinvest 20% of profits in least developed countries back into strengthening health systems. In Nepal, this has helped train enough community health workers to reach more than one million people and 31,000 expectant mothers.

Count every newborn - A large number of infant deaths are still unrecorded and unrecognised. To get a true sense of the scale of the challenge, we need a robust framework of measurement, and subsequently a strong monitoring and evaluation system to analyse the impact of our programmes. In my own organisation, we've learnt how mobile technology can be invaluable - particularly when it comes to scaling up immunisation. Now we must explore how to leverage the ubiquitous mobile phone for effectively collecting and using other health data.

By drawing on the expertise, resources and reach of multiple sectors - in particular the private sector - I'm incredibly optimistic that we can put these steps into action and ensure, in the words of Melinda Gates, that every baby born will be a promise kept.