Cape Town — Malawi, one of Africa's poorest nations, has made significant progress in improving the survival of newborns and is on track to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal number four - to reduce the deaths of children up to the age of five by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.
This is according to a new report released today by Save the Children, which identifies how newborn infants have been overlooked by global efforts intent on improving child and maternal health. While newborns make up 40 percent of child deaths annually, they receive just six percent of development aid.
According to the report, Malawi has the highest rate of pre-term births in the world (18 percent). Roughly a third of all newborn deaths are due to complications that arise from such births.
An important intervention in ensuring the survival of premature babies is Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) - a process that involves skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. By wrapping the baby onto its mother's bare chest for warmth, KMC also promotes breastfeeding and reduces infections.
Kangaroo Mother Care is associated with reducing neonatal mortality by more than 50 percent. It was introduced to Malawi in the late 1990s and there are currently 121 KMC units in the country, including in all 28 government-run district hospitals.
The report, "A Decade of Change for Newborn Survival" notes that despite the statistics of just three healthworkers per 10,000 people in Malawi, the southern African nation improved the life chances of newborns through adopting the following:
- Comprehensive involvement of the national health sector, which provided a framework in which improved services could be devised and delivered.
- A community-based maternal and newborn care package bridging the gap between communities and health facilities.
- Consistent high-level political commitment, which provided a policy platform from which to launch high-impact newborn care interventions with the help of a small network of technical experts in newborn survival.
The reports says that an important lesson from Malawi and other countries where improvements have been significant, is to identify opportunities to integrate newborn care strategies and techniques into the services provided by frontline health workers, especially maternity care at health facilities.
In 2000 just over half of Malawi's children were born in health facilities. In 2010 that figure had increased to 73 percent.