Every 4 seconds a newborn baby dies, mostly from preventable causes yet this health crisis is not visible on the global health agenda. In Durban, South Africa, in October 2010 - neonatal nurses from around the globe joined together to highlight these unnecessary deaths and share advances designed to save as many newborn babies as possible. The conference was co-sponsored by The Neonatal Association of Southern Africa, The Council of International Neonatal Nurses, and Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children.
Global and national leaders are increasingly focusing on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDG 4 aims to reduce the number of deaths in children under the age of 5 years, and progress is being made. However, MDG 4 will not be achieved without a global priority on neonatal care since 41% of child deaths occur during the first month of life (neonatal period). Few of the world’s leaders, or indeed global health agencies, match their priorities to this data. Even in South Africa 22,000 newborns die each year and yet are rarely mentioned.
This 7th global neonatal nursing conference, the first ever held in Africa, raises a united voice for newborn babies who are the most vulnerable and voiceless citizens of our nations. Of the world’s 3.6 million neonatal deaths, three out of four occur in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a critical shortage of medical care and nurses. The three main causes of neonatal deaths are infections, prematurity and birth complications and all have well known solutions requiring people power. The poorest families bear the greatest risk of newborn death, and are least likely to have access to care.
Two neonatal nurses, Regina Obeng from Ghana and Rekha Sarmant from India were awarded the first ever International Neonatal Nursing awards. Many stories were shared of extraordinary service for babies and their mothers. These, and many other unnamed nurses, are at the forefront of caring for newborns, striving for excellence to save lives against all odds. Few low income countries include neonatal nurses in their health system human resource planning. In the whole of sub Saharan Africa, despite the world’s highest risk of neonatal deaths there are only a handful of accredited neonatal nurse courses. At the close of this conference the conveners called for a new recognition of the urgency of reducing newborn deaths and the linked urgency of systematically increasing the numbers of neonatal nurses.
(The Neonatal Association of Southern Africa, October 2010)