Researchers Say Most Deaths of Newborns Preventable

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From VOA   Learning   English , this is   Science in the News . I'm   Anna   Matteo .

And I'm   Christopher   Cruise .
This   week , we   report   on   research   that   shows   most   newborn   baby   deaths could   be   prevented .   Then , we   report   on the   first   international   plan   of   action   to end   newborn   deaths .   Later , we   tell   about   a   call   for   pregnant   and breast feeding mothers to   make   sure   they   are   getting   plenty   of   iodine   in   their   diets . And   finally , we   tell   about   a   possible   link   between   premature   birth   and a   collection   of  mostly   harmless   bacteria .

Preventing Newborn Deaths
Five-and-one-half   million   newborn   and   stillborn   baby   deaths   are   reported   every year . But   very   little   money   is   being   spent   on   efforts   to   reduce   that   numb er . That was   one   of the   findings   of a   series   of   papers   published   in the   British medical   journal   The Lancet . The   findings   also   show   almost   all   those   deaths could   be   prevented .

Top 10 countries for newborn deaths in 2013.
Joy   Lawn   led   the   research .  
' Every   year   there   are 2.9   million   babies   who   die   in the   first   month   of   life , and most   shockingly   a   million   who   die   on   their   birth   day   - the   first   day . And   the re are 2.6   million   stillbirths   -   most   shockingly , 1.2   million   who   die   while   the woman   is in   labor .'

Most   of the   deaths   take   place   in low- and   middle-income   countries .  But   Ms . Lawn   notes   that   newborn   and   stillborn   baby   deaths   are   also   an   issue   in   rich countries . For   example , the   United   States   has   about   500,000   pre-term   - or early   -   births   every   year .

Joy   Lawn   is a   professor   at the   London   School   of   Hygiene   and   Tropical Medicine . She is   also   an   advisor   to the   aid   group   Save the Children UK . She says   many   babies   and   their   mothers   could   be   saved   for   just   a   few   dollars   in medical   care . 

' Seventy-one   percent   of   newborn   deaths   can   be   prevented   with   solutions   that we   have   already .   Three   million   women ,   babies   -   counting   newborns and stillbirths-   could   be   saved   every   year   with   investments   at the   time   of   birth .'

That   care   at the   time   of   birth   includes   simple   things   -   like   keeping   the   baby warm   and   helping   him   or   her   learn   to   breastfeed .   Another   good   idea   is to make   sure   the   baby   has   skin-to-skin   contact   with   the   mother . 

Professor   Lawn   says   doctors   have   known   for   years   that   many   newborns   die . But she   says   spending   to   prevent   the   problem   remains   low .

'Of the   billions   of   dollars   that are   given   for   child   survival ,   only   4% of thatdonor funding even   mentions   the   word   ' newborn .' And   yet   44% of   under-five deaths are among   newborns .   So   there 's a   major   mismatch   in   what   the   funding   is going   to,   compared   to   where   the   deaths   are   now .'

Much   of the   money   is   spent   on   preventing   deaths   of   mothers   and   children   up to   age   five .

In   recent   years , it has   become   more   common   for   hospitals   in the   United States   to   prepare   birth   records   for   stillborn   babies .   Professor   Lawn   says   it is important   for   parents   to   know   that   their   child   has been   recognized .   However , she   says   researchers   found   that, in   many   developing   countries , nosuch recordis   kept .

More   than   50   experts   from 28   organizations   in 17   countries   took   part   in the research .   Their   findings   were   published   in the   British   medical   journal   The Lancet .

WHO's Plan to Save Millions of Newborn Lives
Melinda   Gates , the   wife   of   American   businessman   Bill   Gates ,   recently   made an   appeal   for the   first   international   action   plan   to   end   newborn   deaths . She urged   delegates   to the   World   Health   Assembly   in   Switzerland   to   support   the Newborn Action Plan . 

Every Newborn Action Plan, an international initiative, is set to be launched in June 2014. It's estimated there are 5.5-million newborn and still birth deaths each year. Credit: PMNCH

Health   officials   agree   that   many   -   perhaps   even   most   -   newborn   deaths   are preventable .   Yet   nearly   three   million   babies   die   each   year   within   their   first   28 days   of   life .

Melinda   Gates   told   the   meeting   that, by   approving   the   action   plan ,   health ministers   can   immediately   begin   saving   young   lives . The   delegates   voted   to approve   the   measure .

Ms .   Gates   told   reporters   that   five   low- cost   interventions   are   very   effective   in saving   newborns .   They   include   breastfeeding ,   stopping   and   treating   infections , and   skin-to-skin   contact   with   the   mother .

Ms .   Gates   said   three   countries   -   Ethiopia ,   Rwanda , and   Nepal   - are   already putting   these   steps   in   place , and   reporting   some   success . 

'And   simply   by   using   the   health   care   extension   worker   - a   health   community worker   platform   that   they 've   got   - and   focusing   on   those   newborn   deaths , they 've been   able   to   bring   down   not   just   under-five   mortality , but   new born death-rates   as   well .   So , we   have   those   as   models   and the   other   African nations   and   other   countries   around   the   world   are   looking   at   those   three countries   to   learn   what   is   actually   possible   by   focusing   on this.'

Ms .   Gates   says   the   newborn   death-rate   in   Ethiopia   has   gone   down   by 28 percent   since   the   country   began   working   on the   issue   six   years   ago . 

One   of the   United   Nations '   Millennium   Development   Goals   is to   reduce   the number   of   deaths   among   new   mothers   and   children   under   five .   Great progress   has   been   made   in   reaching   this   goal . But the   World   Health Organization   says   South   Asia   and   sub-Saharan   Africa   still   have   high   numbers of   newborn   deaths   every   year . It   says   India ,   Nigeria   and   Pakistan   have   the highest   numbers .

Melinda   Gates   says   many   countries   neglect   the   issue   of   newborn   deaths because   they   are   working   to   reduce   the   number   of   women   who   die   during childbirth .   Ms .   Gates   said   that   if   there   are   problems   giving   birth ,   health   workers first   try   to   save   the   mother . She   says   it is   important   to   make   health   workers understand   that   they   should   work   on   both   the   mother   and   child   at the   same time .

The Lancet   recently   published   research   that   shows   in   most   places ,   more   than half   of   all   child   deaths   are   among   newborns .

Many Pregnant, Breastfeeding Women Need More Iodine

The   American   Academy   of   Pediatrics   says   pregnant   and   breastfeeding women   should   make   sure   they   are   getting   enough   iodine   in   their   diet .

Growing   babies   -   both   before   and   after   birth   -   need   iodine   for   brain development . But a   new   study   says   about   a   third   of   pregnant   women   in the U.S. are not   getting   enough   iodine , and   only   15   percent   take   pills   that   give them   the   important   mineral .

The   National   Academy   of   Sciences   and the   American   Thyroid   Association say pregnantand   breastfeeding   women   should   take   vitamins   that   have   at   least 150   micrograms   of   iodide .   Iodide   is a   kind   of   iodine   that   can   easily   be   taken   in by the   body . The U.S.   Institute   of   Medicine   says   a   good   diet , in   addition to vitamin supplements ,   should   give   pregnant   women   220   micrograms   ofiodine every day . It   says   breastfeeding   women   should   take   in 290   micrograms .

Iodine   is   commonly   found   in   fortified   salt . But   researchers   say   many women get their   salt   from   processed , or   prepared ,   food .   They   say   this   kind   ofsalt doesnot   contain   iodine .  They   urge   pregnant   and   breastfeeding   women   toget testedand   take   extra   vitamins   to   make   sure   they   are   getting   enough   of the element.

Women   who   are   thinking   about   having   a   child   should   make   sure   they   have enough   iodine   because   many   women   do   not   know   they   are   pregnant   early   in the   pregnancy .

Bad Health, Bacteria in Placenta Could Cause Premature Births

The   placenta   -   which   supports   the   growing   fetus   -   may   not be as   clean   as many   medical   experts   once   believed .   New   research   suggests   the   placenta may   contain   a   collection   of   bacteria   that   may   affect   the   pregnancy , and   even premature   births .

Doctors   work   hard   to   prevent   such   births ,   because   the   babies   often   do   not weigh   very   much .   If   they   survive ,   low- birth -weight   infants   are at   increased   risk for   health   and   developmental   issues .   They   may   develop   cerebral   palsy ,lung and gastrointestinal   problems , and   eyesight   and   hearing   loss . 

Researchers   at the   Baylor   College   of   Medicine   in   Texas   studied   theplacental tissueof 320   women .   Most   of   these   women   gave   birth   the   traditional   way   - without   doctors   performing   an   operation . The   researchers   say   they roundabout300   different   kinds   of   bacteria   in the   placenta .   Most   of   them are harmless, and   help   the   baby 's   health .   Until   this   discovery ,   experts believed that those   harmless , and   helpful ,   bacteria ,   lived   in the   mother 's   vaginal   canal and   were   passed   to the   baby   during   birth .

The   researchers   made   another   surprising   finding .   They   found   that the   mix of bacteriain a   newborn   is not   like   the   bacteria   found   in the   mother 's   vagina . They   were   able   to   link   the   bacteria   in the   placentas   of   women   who recently gave birth   to   microbes   in the   mothers '   mouths .

Kjersti   Aagaard   led   the   research   team . She   says   that   may   explain   why women with gum   disease   often   give   birth   to   babies   at   less   than   37   weeks   into   the pregnancy . The   normal   pregnancy   lasts   about   40   weeks .

Ms .   Aagaard   reported   on the   study   in the   journal   Science Translational Medicine.   She   said   researchers   believe   the   bacteria   from the   mouth   travelled to the   placenta   through   the   mother 's   blood .

The   placenta   is   connected   to the   wall   of the   woman 's   uterus   by theumbilical-cord. It is the   only   organ   that   forms   in   adult   life   and   then   not   used   after   birth . It feeds   the   fetus   as it   develops   and   provides   oxygen . It   also   removes   waste   and produces   hormones   that   support   the   pregnancy .

Kjersti   Aagaard   says   things   like   smoking   and   diet   have   been   linked   to premature   births .   Those   factors   can   be   controlled   by the   mother . But   other factors   -   like   what   is in the   placenta   -   cannot   be   controlled .   So   women should   not   blame   themselves   for   giving   birth   to   premature   babies .

'In this   situation , we   really   want   women   to   step   away   from that, 'I   accept   the blame   for   what   happened   in this   pregnancy ,' and   much   more   one   towards , ' Well ,   if   there   are   things   that   put   me   at   risk   for   pre-term   birth   that I   can   change , then   I'm   going   to   do   everything   in   my   power   to   change   those .''

By   learning   more   about   the   placenta   before   the   child   is   born ,researchers hopeto   identify   women   who   may   be at   high   risk   for   pre-term   deliveries . 

This   Science in the News   was   written   by   Christopher   Cruise ,   who also produced our   report . It was   reported   by   Joe   DeCapua   and   Jessica   Berman   in Washington   and   Lisa   Schlein   in   Geneva .  

I'm   Anna   Matteo .
And I'm   Christopher   Cruise .
Join   us   again   next   week   for   more   news   about   science   on the   Voice   of America .