June 30, 2014

Why do newborns need an action plan?

This post originally appeared on PATH’s website here. Reposted with permission.

At the end of this month, O’Brien Mashinkila, PATH’s Zambia-based policy and advocacy officer, will join 800 global health professionals, policymakers, business leaders, and advocates at the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, & Child Health Partners’ Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, he and his colleagues in global health will discuss the final push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and set new targets for women’s and children’s health after 2015.

As O’Brien prepared for the forum, he answered a few questions about the success his home country has had in setting policy that will help babies survive the first days and weeks of life, and what the upcoming global meeting could mean for newborn survival.

Q: Now that Zambia’s national Integrated Management of Childhood Illness strategy includes newborn care, what lessons do you hope to share with partners at the forum?

A. We were able to achieve this policy change in Zambia because key stakeholders recognized a gap in newborn care and set out to fill it.

While the implementation of the strategy began in the mid-1990s, Zambia did not have a national strategic document to guide its scale-up. PATH collaborated with the government and other partners for over a year to develop the Newborn Health Care Scale-Up Framework and to integrate newborn care into the national strategy.

That collaboration was the key to our success. The Zambian government bought into the policy process and felt compelled to ensure that babies in Zambia make it through their first days of life. With the involvement of important stakeholders, the government was held accountable to uphold their commitment.

Q: What potential do you see for the Partners’ Forum to further contribute to newborn health success in Zambia?

A: One of the most significant moments of the forum will be the launch of the United Nations’ Every Newborn Action Plan.

Newborn survival has continually lagged behind improvements in child health due to less attention and investment. However, as countries plan strategies to accelerate progress toward the MDGs and set a post-2015 agenda, newborn mortality is an issue that they must prioritize.The Every Newborn Action Plan will focus necessary global attention on preventable newborn deaths and the low-cost, high-impact interventions that are available to stop them.

We’ve already seen evidence of an astounding increase in momentum for addressing newborn mortality in Zambia. I think that the plan launch will accelerate these actions—particularly as we work with the Zambian government to finalize the Essential Newborn Health Guidelines and formulate the Newborn Health Implementation Plan. Both strategies speak to the Zambia’s commitment to achieving newborn survival targets.

Q: What innovations are still needed to reach newborns?

A: I think innovative policy implementation plans are critical. Even after identifying key interventions and crafting public policy, it will be impossible to reach all newborns with those interventions if governments fail to develop a plan for implementation of these policies.

I also see needed improvements in data collection and tracking of newborns, especially those born outside of health care facilities. Finally, in order to decrease newborn mortality across the board, we need to ensure that all newborns have access to lifesaving commodities and health interventions.