Giving Every Mother and Newborn a Chance – No Matter Their Circumstance

May 12, 2017 By Megan Rabbitt

The first time Mtisunge laid eyes on her baby boy he was still and silent. She knew something was wrong. The relief she felt upon delivering her son after a long and difficult labor quickly vanished. Her baby wasn’t breathing.

But Mtisunge and her son were lucky. Unlike many women in Malawi, she delivered with the help of a skilled birth attendant – Geofrey, who knew exactly what to do in this complicated situation.

With the clock ticking, Geofrey dried the baby and wrapped him in a towel to keep him warm. He gently suctioned the newborn’s nose and mouth to make sure his airways were clear. He rubbed the baby’s back, prompting him to take that first breath, before he was forced to manually ventilate. Five minutes later, Praise – as his mother would name him – took his first breath and let out the cry everyone had been waiting to hear.

Geofrey was able to save baby Praise thanks to a program made possible by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and partners like Johnson & Johnson and Save the Children. Appropriately called Helping Babies Breathe, the program trains health workers and birth attendants like Geofrey to treat birth asphyxia in 80 developing countries.

And it is working. Since 2011, in Malawi and Uganda alone, Johnson & Johnson and Save the Children have equipped upwards of 1,300 birth attendants with the skills they need to treat birth asphyxia – and more than 23,000 babies have been saved as a result.

This remarkable program is one of many supported by the Survive and Thrive Global Development Alliance, which brings together public and private partners to promote the health and well-being of mothers and infants around the world.

From teaching birth attendants how to handle common – yet potentially deadly – pregnancy and childbirth complications, to teaching health workers how to save newborns like Praise – the Alliance is giving more babies a chance to grow up, and more mothers a chance to raise their children.

And because the Alliance focuses on empowering local health providers to care for their own patients, this progress will continue to multiply as health workers pass on their newfound knowledge to their peers.

And it is critical that they do, because the need for skilled birth attendants in developing countries is severe. 99 percent of maternal deaths –which occur at a rate of one woman every two minutes – are in developing countries. This tragic statistic is compounded by the fact that 80 percent of those deaths could have been prevented. And we know that when skilled attendants assist in deliveries, maternal deaths drop by 60 percent.

More skilled birth attendants like Geofrey will mean that mothers like Mtisunge can deliver safely and more babies like Praise can get a second chance to live a full life. As we give thanks to our own mothers this Mother’s Day, let’s also thank Johnson & Johnson and Save the Children for all they are doing to ensure that more women have a chance to become mothers, and more children are born healthy and happy.

Photo: USAID / CC