THE BLOG

Fighting to End Newborn Deaths Across the World

04/03/2014 16:58 GMT | Updated 04/05/2014 10:59 BST

Last week saw the publication of Save the Children's highly anticipated Ending Newborn Deaths Report. I was humbled and honoured to have been named the National Newborn Health Champion for Nigeria at the launch, which highlighted the newborn health crisis and called for action to end newborn deaths.

Statistics indicate that an estimated 2.9million newborns die each year worldwide, and an additional 2.6million are stillborn. According to Save the Children, every year, within the first 24 hours of life, more than one million babies die.

We need to consider what newborn babies are bestowed with, and what chances they have, upon arrival into the world. Nigeria has an annual birth rate of about seven million, with a life expectancy at birth of 52.5 years. In other words, a newborn, all things being equal, is not expected to live longer than 52.5 years in Nigeria, compared to 89.6 years in Monaco, 82.8 years in Switzerland, and 80.3 years in Germany.

Although there has been progress in reducing the number of deaths of children under the age of five years, in my native Nigeria, the progress has been too slow and the death rates remain worrying. Under-five and newborn mortality rates in Nigeria are amongst the highest in the world, with the poorest households suffering even more. We cannot sit down and fold our arms at such grand wastage of life, and the unbearable pain it causes mothers and families. We need to act now to ensure our newborns not only survive, but also thrive.

The Save the Children report illustrates that half of first day deaths around the world could be prevented if the mother and baby had access to free health care and a skilled midwife. These deaths occur because of premature birth and complications during birth, such as prolonged labour, pre-eclampsia and infection, which can be avoided if quality health experts are present. At least 66% of newborn deaths are now preventable with low-cost, low-tech interventions, and an estimated 80% of newborn deaths are preventable and/or treatable. We need not suffer preventable newborn deaths, and we must ensure that all hands are on deck to galvanise actions in this regard.

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa is working with partners in Nigeria to scale up access to essential primary healthcare services and commodities for women, children and newborns through the Saving One Million Lives (SOML) initiative. Along with our partners, we have also been working tirelessly to achieve the implementation of the National Health Bill, which will enhance the practice and provision of healthcare services in Nigeria, a fundamental step in securing the wellbeing of our mothers and newborns.

In an effort to save millions of newborn lives, we are urging all global leaders to take a stance this year and commit to a blueprint for change, namely, the Five Point Newborn Promise. This agenda focuses on training and equipping enough skilled healthcare workers to make sure no baby is born without proper help, and removing fees for all pregnancy and birth services.

This year will also see the launch of the Every Newborn Action Plan in June, which will provide a renewed sense of urgency on the critical issue of newborn health, and hopefully drive renewed action on newborn survival. In conjunction with the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Childrens' Fund, we have been participating in working groups to advance advocacy and private sector engagement on the Every Newborn Action Plan, in order to promote and encourage the power of partnerships to achieve Millennium Development Goals four and five.

We believe that ending newborn deaths is within the grasp of this present generation, and we must all work collaboratively and strategically to achieve this.