Healthy mothers, healthy children: Save newborn babies, paediatricians urge govt

Published: December 1, 2015
AKU hosts conference on maternal, foetal and neonatal medicine. PHOTO: FILE

AKU hosts conference on maternal, foetal and neonatal medicine. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Given that Pakistan tops the list of most newborn deaths in South Asia, paediatricians have urged the government take measures to reduce newborn mortality ratio.

Sharing statistics of newborn deaths in Pakistan, Dr Khawaja Ahmad Irfan Waheed, an associate professor of neonatology at the Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Lahore, said that 20,000 babies die every month, 670 every day and 28 within an hour.

Dr Waheed was speaking at the Aga Khan University’s Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health, which organised an international conference on maternal, foetal and neonatal medicine in collaboration with the Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) Neonatology Group on Monday.

He pointed out that 52 per cent of the babies born in the country are brought into this world by unskilled birth attendants. The female fertility rate in Pakistan is 6.3 while fertility rate is 3.2. He said that 21 per cent of the population in Pakistan lives below the poverty line as compared to 33 per cent in India and 43 per cent in Bangladesh. “But they [Indian and Bangladesh] are good at delivering and controlling child mortality rate,” he said. Finance is not the issue but the distribution of the amount is, he said.

Pakistan is the second in the world after Angola in newborn mortality rate, pointed out Dr Waheed. “We have to focus on communities, rural areas, basic health units and rural health centres,” he suggested.

Dr Jai Kumar Das, an assistant professor of the Research Division of Women and Child Health at AKU, said that Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are highest in neonatal deaths in the region. “Pakistan and Afghanistan have slow growth in improvement in neonatal deaths,” said Dr Das.

A step in the right direction would be for the government to implement the newborn action plan in letter and spirit and properly look after newborn and sick babies, said Dr Zulfiqar A Bhutta, the founding director of the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health.

“All public and private hospitals should be well-equipped to deal with deliveries,” he said. “All staff should also be well-trained.” Dr Bhutta recommended the government take measures to register every baby at birth.

“The government should create posts of neonatologists at least at teaching hospitals,” stressed Major General (retd) Prof Salman Ali, the chairperson of the PPA centre. “We have to improve primary healthcare to bring down child mortality rate,” he said.

The government can achieve targets through the recommendations of the conference. “We can achieve targets if recommendations are implemented,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st,  2015.

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