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Newborn Survival Rates Improve Dramatically with Specialized Care Units

UNICEF India Representative, Karin Hulshof, with a premature baby at a Facility Based Newborn Care Unit (FBNCU) in northern Indian state of Rajasthan. The first FBNCU in the state was established with UNICEF support in district Tonk in January 2008.

By Angela Walker

UDAIPUR, India, 9 November 2010 – Kiran Sharma stands watch over her six-day-old nephew huddled in an incubator under a pink blanket with teddy bears covering his frail body. The baby boy and his twin sister each weighed just over a kilo when they were born at seven and a half months.

“I was afraid when she was admitted,” said Kiran, relaying the story of her sister-in-law’s Priyanka’s delivery. “At the time of the birth, (their parents) were so afraid. We worried at the time that the babies would not recover.”

In Pictures - Improving Newborn Survival Rates

Kiran rushed to the hospital, a two-day bus ride from her village in Dhariyawad, 50 kilometers outside Udaipur, after hearing her brother Prakash’s children were in serious condition.



“I take care of these babies as if they are my own children,” says Kiran, whose smile is still apparent even though her face is covered with a surgical mask to prevent infection. “I have faith that the babies will get better soon. I’m feeling very good now.”

These infants are among the lucky ones admitted to a Facility-Based Newborn Care Unit (FBNCU) in Udaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The first FBNCU in the state was established with UNICEF support in the district of Tonk in January 2008. Now there are 34 FBNCUs in the Rajasthan.

Babies that arrive at the FBNCU often suffer low birth weight, prematurity, asphyxia or infections. The doctors and nurses that staff the unit are trained in the latest protocols and know how to use specialised equipment to treat delicate newborns to increase their chance of survival.

Of the approximately 50,000 infants that are admitted annually, about 90 per cent will be sent home healthy and thriving.

Eight states contribute to 75 per cent of infant mortality in India: Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat and Assam. 

The average decline of the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) per year between the years 2004 to 2008 has been about 1 per 1,000 per year. In 2008, the IMR was 53 per 1,000 live births.

This week, health specialists from around the world are gathering in the Indian capital of Delhi for an international conference to follow up the UN Secretary-General’s launching of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health at the UN Millennium Development Goal’s Summit. 

“From Pledges to Action,” is hosted by ‘The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health’ and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India 12-14 November.

Averting neonatal deaths is pivotal to reducing child mortality. The neonatal period starts from birth and continues through the first 28 days of life. In India, the neonatal mortality rate (mortality in the newborn period) stands at 35 per 1,000 live births, and contributes to 65 per cent of all deaths in the first year of life.

In an adjacent room in the Udaipur FBNCU, blue light washes over Kiran’s sister, Mamta Sharma, as she watches over her tiny niece. The twin’s sister is undergoing photo therapy for jaundice.

Gauze is taped over her eyes and tubes protrude from the baby’s nose. Her chest pumps rhythmically, outlining her tiny ribs visible under her thin flesh.

“I had to come as I was very worried about the babies. We made a small temple inside the house,” to pray for the infants’ survival, says Mamta in the glow of the blue light of the incubator. “I will thank the gods when we return.”

A corridor connects the maternal hospital to the newborn care unit just as a mother is connected to her unborn child by the umbilical cord, said Dr. R. L. Suman, Associate Professor of Paediatrics. “Babies that require critical care and can be transferred immediately,” he says.

Maternal mortality has a direct impact on infant mortality. Babies whose mothers die during the first six weeks of their lives are far more likely to die in the first two years of life than babies whose mothers survive.

“The survival of the child is dependent a lot on the survival of the mother,” said Dr. Avatar Singh Dua, Health Specialist in the UNICEF Rajasthan office. 

Globally, every year over 350, 000 women die of pregnancy related causes and 99 percent of these occur in developing countries. India continues to 18 per cent of all global maternal deaths.

About half of the total maternal deaths occur because of hemorrhage and sepsis. A large number of deaths are preventable through safe deliveries and adequate maternal care.

Karin Hulshof, UNICEF India Representative, paid a recent visit to the FBNCU in Udaipur and was touched and impressed by what she saw.

“It’s really wonderful to see the care and attention at this hospital,” she said. “This baby was born fifty minutes ago. And the mother, they’re cleaning her. She’s good. She got her attention. There are doctors. There is a nurse. Sixty deliveries a day – 1,800 deliveries per month. This is really amazing. This is the incredible India that I like. This is India pointing in the right direction.”

For more information and interviews, please contact:

Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-1810-6093; E-mail: awalker@unicef.org

Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-1810-5861; E-mail: gmaster@unicef.org

Alistair Gretarsson, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-7153-5586; E-mail: agretarsson@unicef.org

Sonia Sarkar, Communication Officer- Media, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-101-70289; E-mail: ssarkar@unicef.org

 

 
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