“The news on the childhood mortality front is both very good and very bad. Millions have been saved, but millions are still dying. Melinda Gates, in an address to the World Health Assembly, offers some smart solutions.”
FIRST THE GOOD NEWS: In 1990, the United Nations set goals to improve human health and equality. Because of this, childhood mortality rates around the world have dropped 47%, which means 17 million children lived last year who would otherwise have died.
NOW THE BAD NEWS: 6.6 million babies and small children under the age of five still died, mostly in the Third World. We obviously still have a lot of work to do to wipe out excessive childhood death.
Gates, the wife of Bill Gates, says most of these 6.6 million deaths are preventable:
“I want to be very clear about what I mean when I say preventable,” she added. “I don’t mean theoretically preventable under ideal but unrealistic circumstances. I mean preventable with relatively simple, relatively inexpensive interventions.”
The first three of these interventions are essentially free, and the other two are dirt cheap:
1. Drying the baby completely after birth to prevent hypothermia.
2. Breastfeeding within the first hour of life and exclusively for the first six months, when possible.
3. Practicing “kangaroo care,” or skin-to-skin contact between a baby and its mother or another adult caregiver as much as possible. This increases bonding between the baby and caregiver and increases milk flow in the mother.
4. Resuscitation masks for babies who stop breathing at birth or shortly afterwards. A mask and basic training in its use cost about $5.
5. Use of the antiseptic chlorhexidine to clean the end of the umbilical cord after it’s been cut and prevent fatal infections. This costs just a few cents per application
Gates says these simple, inexpensive practices really work, but they aren’t being used everywhere. If used consistently, they would save most of the 18,000 infants that die every day, week after week and year after year, around the globe.