In remote Kyrgyzstan simple solutions save newborn lives

In the mountainous central Asian country Kyrgyzstan, simple solutions are saving newborn lives.

Melanie Sharpe
A newborn baby in a hospital in Kyrgyzstan
08 January 2018

In the mountainous central Asian country Kyrgyzstan, simple solutions are saving newborn lives. From 1990 to 2016, the number of deaths of children 5 and under was reduced by two thirds, while the neonatal mortality rate was cut in half from 24 to 12 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Much of this work was done through simple solutions – better training and equipment for midwives and health workers as well as upgrades to clinics and hospitals.

A new report by UNICEF and global health partners released today shows a staggering 2.6 million newborns die every year – that’s approximately 7,000 newborn lives lost each day. The majority of these deaths are easily preventable. 

The United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME) report also shows the number of deaths among children under 5 is dropping, but the rate of decline for newborns is dragging behind. Newborn deaths now account for a larger share of the total number of deaths among children under-five – 46 per cent – compared to 41 per cent in 2000. 

Many regions of the world have yet to significantly reduce the number of newborns dying – but in Kyrgyzstan simple, affordable solutions are reaching the mothers and babies who need them most.

In the tiny mountain village of Daroot Korgon one obstetrician serves Chon Alai district’s entire population of 25,000 people, and has witnessed and been part of the remote  Central Asian country’s child survival revolution. 


A view of Daroot Korgon village

Kyrgyzstan’s Daroot Korgon village is 3,500 kilometers above sea level and 300 kilometers away from the closest city. It has the only hospital in the entire Chon Alai district, which serves a population of 25,000 people spread across a vast mountainous territory. 


A doctor holds a newborn baby

Dr. Baktygul Pakirova is the only obstetrician for all of Kyrgyzstan’s Chon Alai district. She was born and raised in Kadamzhai, a small town in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken province. She has worked at the Daroot Korgon Hospital for 7 years. During this time she estimates she has helped with the safe delivery of approximately 3,500 newborn babies.   

Dr. Pakirova explains that after her grandmother passed away when she was a young girl, her father encouraged her to become a doctor. 

This was the dearest dream of my father to see his daughter becoming a doctor. This is because when I was young, my granny got ill and the women (health personnel) in the hospital were really very cold and distant. There was a pain that stayed in the heart of my father because of that. So he told me – you need to become a doctor. I trust in you. And when you become a doctor you need to be a very good doctor.


Dr. Pakirova cooking a meal with one of her children

Dr. Pakirova lives right next door to the hospital with her husband and three children. Here she is with her son Elmir, aged two, as she prepares dinner for her family. But work is never far off. Dr. Pakirova explains that many times midwives from the hospital and families of pregnant women have knocked on her window– sometimes in the middle of the night - for her help with a complicated birth. 

She says living so close is critical to doing her job. 

We always need to be ready, regardless of the circumstances. This work is a huge responsibility. I am responsible for two lives – the life of the mother and the life of the child.

Dr Pakirova at work in the hospital

Dr. Pakirova says less than a decade ago things at the hospital were drastically different. The winters were particularly challenging as temperatures drop to -40C in Daroot Korgon. 

If you had come here seven years ago, you would have seen a staggering sight. Many newborns were dying of hypothermia. Old windows, allowed the cold air in. There was no running water. When they died, my heart was in pain. I was crying together with the mothers.

Dr. Baktygul
Dr. Baktaigul and midwife on duty Zhypar Sattarova perform the first check up on a healthy newborn baby.

Here Dr. Baktaigul and midwife on duty Zhypar Sattarova perform the first check up on a healthy newborn baby before getting him dressed. 

To decrease newborn deaths, UNICEF and partners have been working improve the resuscitation of newborn babies immediately after birth. This was done through training medical staff, providing new equipment and renovating clinics.  

Since 2015 almost 650 doctors, midwives and nurses have been trained on newborn child resuscitation and care in Kyrgyzstan. Dr. Baktygul and her team of midwives have received multiple trainings on pediatric advanced life support and the Help Babies Breathe methodology for newborns.  


Dr. Baktygul attends to a 33-year old lady who is ready to deliver her fifth child.

On this day Dr. Baktygul is working with 33 year old Jiydegul who is ready to deliver her fifth child. Jiydegul is from a small village about an hour drive away from the hospital. 

“I know there will be pain, but I am not afraid. I feel confident, because I trust my doctor and the medical personnel,” said Jiydegul. 


Jiydegul delivers a healthy baby boy, named Nurdan.

Jiydegul delivers a baby boy, named Nurdan.  Nurdan weighs 4.5 kilograms or 9.9 pounds – a large, healthy baby – and a safe delivery.  

Globally, children face the highest risk of dying in their first few moments of life. A safe delivery and trained staff are critical for decreasing newborn mortality. 

We are ready for the birth, because today in this hospital, the conditions are really good. We have been trained and connected to water. We have new windows and electric heaters to heat the birthing room.

Dr. Baktayul explains.

Nurdan will stay on his mother’s breast for the next two hours. The skin to skin contact, called “kangaroo care” helps improve the baby’s breathing and heart rate.

The only thing I want for him is that he becomes a good person. Someone who cares about others.

Jiydegul say.
Dr. Baktygul watches Jiydegul, hold her newborn son Nurdan.

Dr. Baktygul watches Jiydegul, hold her newborn son Nurdan. After 2 days in the hospital mother and son will be ready to go home. 

UNICEF estimates approximately 1 million newborns died on their first day of life last year globally. Kyrgyzstan remains an example of how small solutions save newborn lives.