Neonatal mortality rates in the Caribbean concern health officials

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — A three-day workshop aimed at creating a regional strategy to accelerate the reduction of maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity began here yesterday amid concerns over the high levels of mortality rates for post neonatal infants and children under the age of five.

Health officials said that while Latin America and the Caribbean had made "great strides" in reducing the mortality rates for people within that age group, neonatal mortality figures have not fallen at the same pace.

Health Minister John Boyce told delegates attending the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) workshop titled "Regional Strategy and Action Plan for Neonatal Health Evaluation" that this is a major concern for health officials.

Boyce pointed out that neonatal mortality, defined as death in the first 28 days of life, was estimated at 15 per 1,000 live births in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"It is estimated that in this region, the 'still-birth' rate approximates the neonatal mortality rate," he said, noting that newborn mortality accounts for 60 per cent of infant deaths and under five years, mortality accounts for 36 per cent. But he
said the majority of these deaths
are avoidable.

The objectives of the workshop include creating a regional strategy to accelerate the reduction of maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity; a regional strategy and plan of action for neonatal health within the continuum of maternal, newborn and child care, and a strategy and plan of action for integrated child health.

"As you are no doubt aware, newborns are perhaps the most vulnerable patient population in the world. Not only are they biologically immature and, therefore, uniquely susceptible to a range of life-threatening illnesses, they are also wholly dependent on others to advocate for their health and welfare.

"The survival of mothers and their newborn babies are inextricably linked and thus it can be argued that intervention methods, solutions and approaches to care and treatment must be integrated in order to improve newborn and child health care," Boyce said.

He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recorded an "impressive decline" in child mortality rates over the past three decades from 17 million a year in the 1970s to four million annually at present. But Boyce said the figures were still startling and that 98 per cent of the deaths recorded took place in the developing world.

The health minister said it was therefore, necessary to ensure that neonatal health was prominently placed on the health agenda with a focused approach promoting effective policies and programmes; evidence- based interventions for newborn care in health services and communities within a health systems approach; strengthening surveillance systems and targeting the poor and marginalised populations.

He said factors which contributed to high neonatal mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean included: low visibility of newborn deaths and newborn health in national priority settings; inequalities in access to skilled birth attendants and primary health care; and continuing poor maternal health.

In the case of Barbados, Boyce said the country was still facing some challenges in relation to "optimal outcomes" during the neonatal period.

"The hosting of this workshop is indeed a timely one and is welcomed by my ministry and the Barbadian community. The Ministry of Health has the responsibility for the planning, development and delivery of health care services for the public and, therefore, remains cognisant of the
need to have strategies in place to ensure optimal health care during the perinatal and neonatal period.

"No country, agency or organisation can address this problem of neonatal, perinatal and maternal mortality alone. Thus, the Government of Barbados, through the Ministry of Health, looks forward to engaging the expertise of its counterparts in the creation of a continuum of care and an environment that facilitates the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in maternal and child health," Boyce told the delegates.


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