When a baby is born and is not breathing, simple techniques like rubbing the baby dry, keeping the baby warm, and suctioning the baby’s mouth may be all that is needed to save a life. Even more babies can begin to breathe on their own after just a few breaths from a simple ventilation device. A new, global initiative launched this month to teach these essential skills to birth attendants in developing countries should have a dramatic impact on reducing infant mortality worldwide.
Helping Babies Breathe SM is an initiative of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO), and in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development, Save the Children/Saving Newborn Lives, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Laerdal Medical AS, and a number of other global health organizations.
The collaborators will sign a Global Public-Private Alliance to launch the initiative as part of the annual meeting of the Global Health Council June 14-16 in Washington, DC. The meeting will include a day-long training session with 100 international advocates who will bring training materials back to their home countries.
The WHO estimates that 1 million babies die each year from birth asphyxia, or the inability to breathe immediately after delivery. Approximately the same number of stillbirths each year are linked to events during labor. A significant percentage of these may be liveborn babies who simply do not breathe or move at birth, but could be resuscitated with simple measures.
“All people who care for babies at birth can learn to protect healthy babies, and to help babies who do not breathe well on their own,” said neonatologist Susan Niermeyer, MD, MPH, FAAP, editor of Helping Babies Breathe. “We believe that Helping Babies Breathe can be a catalyst to increase skilled attendance at birth, build linkages between communities and health facilities, and strengthen health systems. There is the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.”
A key concept of Helping Babies Breathe is “The Golden Minute SM.” Within one minute of birth, a baby should be breathing well or be ventilated. Culturally sensitive learning materials use pictures to illustrate the steps a birth attendant must take immediately after birth to evaluate the baby and stimulate breathing. Realistic newborn simulators, boilable bag-mask ventilation devices and boilable bulb suction devices will be made available at cost to Millennium Development Goal 4 countries.
Helping Babies Breathe will be targeted to the 63 countries participating in Millennium Development Goal 4, which aims for a reduction in under-5 child mortality by two-thirds from 1990 levels by the year 2015. Neonatal mortality, or death in the first month of life, accounts for more than 40 percent of child mortality worldwide. The materials have been tested in five pilot sites in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Tanzania. More information is available at www.helpingbabiesbreathe.org.