Every three minutes, a neonatal death occurs in Latin America. This is completely unacceptable, as the available knowledge should permit a substantial reduction in that rate through relatively low-cost measures. Tens of thousands of newborn lives could be saved each year, and the Region would achieve the reduction in child deaths contemplated in the Millennium Development Goals.
That is what has led the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the BASICS Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), and nongovernmental organizations such as Save the Children, Access, and Core to join forces in the Neonatal Alliance for Latin America and the Caribbean and, recently, to announce a consensus-based strategy for reducing neonatal mortality in the Americas.
Five key strategic areas were identified for inclusion in a Plan of Action:
-Strengthening policies and programmatic responses in this area
-Strengthening health systems toward universal, equitable access to care
-Improving, expanding, and reorienting neonatal care
-Developing/strengthening monitoring and evaluation systems
-Developing partnerships to ensure the effective participation of all relevant organizations.
In order to improve, expand, and reorient newborn care, it is necessary to encourage the adoption of relatively low-cost, highly effective measures for preventing neonatal mortality. These include activities such as vaccinating pregnant women against tetanus, ensuring that every birth is attended by skilled personnel (though not necessarily physicians), promptly treating infections in newborns, and educating mothers about the importance of breast-feeding, proper hygiene and warmth for newborns.
The importance of forging partnerships for these efforts is evidenced by the need to integrate activities in closely linked areas that have been addressed separately in the past. Moreover, neonatal health is an essential link between maternal, newborn, and child health programs; therefore, coordinating interventions can significantly reduce costs and improve program efficiency and effectiveness.
As part of the strategic consensus, PAHO will offer technical cooperation to the countries to boost their response capacity and improve neonatal care, with particular attention to human resource development and upgrading, the development and adaptation of work standards, methodologies, and guidelines, and the dissemination of strategic information, including evidence-based interventions.
This will make it possible to coordinate and support the efforts of the countries, who are the main actors in an initiative of this importance, through activities sponsored by the members of the Neonatal Alliance, as well as community and nongovernmental organizations. The Region has made great strides in reducing child and infant mortality in recent decades. We now are determined to make equally significant progress in reducing neonatal mortality in the coming years, thereby contributing to happier families and greater human development in the Hemisphere.