Press Release 2009
Working Together to Save Newborn Lives
March 16, 2009 (Save the Children U.S., Addis Ababa)
Olympic Gold Medalist and six-time World Record Holder in the 5,000 meter run, Meseret Defar, U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, Save the Children, and Ministry of Health staff came together today at the Black Lion Hospital to promote the use of low cost methods of reducing infant mortality.
Ethiopia has one of the highest newborn mortality rates in the world, with 120,000 babies dying annually. Two-thirds of those deaths occur in the first 24 hours of life, and the majority of deaths are a result of treatable and preventable conditions. According to Professor Bogale Worku, Head of the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at Addis Ababa University, “Ethiopia is working hard to meet the millennium goal of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds, but without more emphasis on newborn mortality we will not make it.” Professor Bogale continued, “It is the right of every child to survive, develop, and be part of the future of Ethiopia.”
“We thank the Ministry of Health and Save the Children for taking the lead in efforts to reduce newborn mortality in Ethiopia,” said Ambassador Yamamoto. “The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is partnering with the Ministry to help expand access to life-saving services through the construction of more than 70 health centers across Ethiopia and support for Health Extension Workers at the community level,” he continued. “Working together we can improve the health of mothers and babies.”
Safe the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives Program, which is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to reduce neonatal mortality through low cost high impact intervention.
To accomplish its goal of reducing the infant mortality rates, Save the Children has worked with the Ministry of Health to introduce techniques like Kangaroo Mother Care. This method of care is a special way of wrapping a baby next to a mother to facilitate skin to skin contact and breastfeeding while fostering a stronger bond between the mother and her infant. This method of care has been shown to reduce medical costs while improving the survival rates of pre-mature infants. In 2008 Save the Children, in collaboration with USAID’s ACCESS Program, came together to support the Federal Ministry’s of Health’s goal to expand the highly successful Kangaroo Mother Care program to over six hospitals across Ethiopia. The Kangaroo Mother Care Unit at Black Lion Hospital was the first one to open thirteen years ago.
”The great thing about Kangaroo Mother Care is that you don’t need a hospital setting to do this,” said Dr. Tedbabe Degefie, Senior Health Specialist for Save the Children. “This is a practice that has been proven to be effective in places where incubators don’t exist or electricity is scarce – as well as in industrialized nations – the warmth from the skin to skin contact is the essential element,” continued Dr. Degefie.
One of the primary concerns for pre-mature or malnourished infants is heat loss. As such Save the Children has initiated a campaign “Knit One Save One”, an infant cap knitting initiative. With support from volunteers representing every one of the 50 states in America, Save the Children has been able to provide yet another low cost effective way of reducing infant mortality. Visiting the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit from Nevada was obstetrical nurse, Vicki Akin. Vicki, who has delivered more than 3,000 babies in the United States came to Ethiopia as a guest of Save the Children to present the caps that she has been knitting for newborns.
“I am very excited to be in Ethiopia and to take back the message to all Americans that we can all do something to reduce infant mortality – whether it is government’s making this issue a priority; donors increasing resources; individuals knitting hats and giving of their time and resources; or parents providing the appropriate care – we can all do something,” shared Ms. Akin.
Tigist Wolde-Yohannes, a first time mother of two one month old twins said of the cap initiative, “I am happy for getting the caps. As I gave birth to preterm babies, they need to be kept warm. So far I didn’t get caps that fit them, but the ones I got today really fit them and it keeps them warm.”
On their visit to the Black Lion Hospital, the Ambassador and his wife, Margaret Yamamoto, gave the hats that volunteers had made to the newborns in the neonatal ward. One young mother in the hospital who had the chance to visit with the Ambassador said, “The thing that made me very happy today is the fact that the American Ambassador and his wife, as well as the Ethiopian athlete Meseret Defar, came here to visit us. And more the Ambassador put the caps on my babies -- the caps are very nice which will keep my babies warm. I thank them all.”
During his visit, Ambassador Yamamoto praised the efforts of the Ministry of Health and Save the Children and thanked Meseret Defar for “being a role model for women in this country. It is truly admirable that you are spending your time giving back to your country.”
According to Ms. Defar, “Today is my first time to see children in this situation. I am touched inside. My plan for the future is to engage wholeheartedly in efforts that aim at reducing the death of mothers and children in Ethiopia.”
For more information contact Getachew Dibaba at Save the Children U.S. in Addis Ababa (Tel. 0911-125-201/011-372-8455)