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Liberia: improving newborn health

Liberia has succeeded in reducing child mortality at annual average reduction rate of 5.4% in under-fives and 2.2% reduction in newborns.

The neonatal mortality rate has fallen from 32 per 1,000 live births to 27, and the under-five mortality rate has dropped from 110 per 1,000 live births to 80.

The decline in the neonatal mortality rate is slower than that in under-fives by about 56%, and neonatal deaths constitute 35% of all children who die before their fifth birthday. Most often, newborns die due to infection or premature birth.

Pioneering new approaches

In order to address the problem of prematurity and newborn sepsis, and to improve the health of babies in Liberia, Save the Children has helped develop policies on the use of the antiseptic chlorhexidine for umbilical cord care, as well as contributing to national guidelines for the implementation of ‘Kangaroo mothercare’.

As a result, for the first time chlorhexidine is being introduced into Liberia to help prevent umbilical infection, and it will be included in the country’s essential medicines list.  Kangaroo mothercare is to become standard practice for the management of preterm and low birthweight babies.

Kangaroo mothercare is an easy and inexpensive intervention that effectively uses skin-to-skin contact to improve very small newborns’ chances of survival. This contact promotes warmth and regulates the baby’s temperature (including effectively preventing and treating hypothermia), encourages weight gain and uptake and duration of breastfeeding, and reduces infection.

An exciting announcement

Liberia is now proving its commitment to improving newborn health. The government of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare recently stated that:

“Henceforth 7 .1% Chlorhexidine digluconate (4% free Chlorhexidine) will be applied to the  tip of the cord, the stump and around the base of the stump  cord of  all babies delivered in Liberia immediately after cutting the cord as with repeat application once daily until the cord separates; and the Kangaroo Mother Care guideline will be used by the policy makers, planners, implementers and partners to guide the establishment and implementation of Kangaroo Mother Care services at National, Regional, County and health facility levels to ensure survival and optimal development of preterm and low birth weight babies.”

In a setting like Liberia, where the neonatal mortality rate due to newborn infection is a so high this is indeed very hopeful news!

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