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Blog Post

Turning Tragedy into Joy: Saving Lives at Birth

  • Gary Darmstadt, Andrew Serazin, Mar 9, 2011

Childbirth should be a time of celebration, yet every year nearly three million families are devastated by a stillbirth or death of a mother or newborn baby during birth or soon afterwards. One such death occurs somewhere about every 10 seconds, abruptly turning anticipation into mourning, and for some women, blame, rejection, and isolation following a stillbirth or newborn death.

Deaths during childbirth are particularly challenging to address because problems that arise in childbirth create emergency situations with a narrow window of a few minutes to a few hours to intervene. Solving this problem requires effective preventive measures or treatments provided rapidly to women and newborns, often at home or in rural clinics.

Saving lives at birth will require a broad spectrum of new medical breakthroughs, but technology alone cannot reverse this loss of life. Technical innovations must be united with advances in attitudes, practices, and behaviors that surround care. We also need innovation in business models to stimulate marketplace incentives to reach women and children in low-resource communities with the care they need. This represents one of the grand challenges facing public health today, and this week, several international development organizations have joined hands in a major new partnership to face this challenge.

To address this challenge, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Grand Challenges Canada, the Government of Norway, and the World Bank have launched a landmark initiative, Saving Lives at Birth. This collaborative partnership calls for groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for women and newborns, including family planning and nutritional interventions, in rural, low-resource settings.

We are seeking to support innovations that integrate solutions to healthy pregnancies and births in three major areas:

  • science and technology: new medical technologies that are appropriate for the community or clinic setting in poor rural communities
  • service delivery: availability of front-line healthcare providers who can reach the woman or her newborn quickly, and who are adequately trained, motivated, and equipped to intervene;
  • demand: approaches to raising women's awareness, motivation, empowerment, and ability to access health care or adopt healthy, preventive behaviors during pregnancy, childbirth, and the period after birth, especially the first two days of a baby's life.

We will work together in this new partnership to stimulate, support, test, and disseminate bright ideas, particularly those that emerge from the very people who face the challenge of saving lives at birth every day. Our aim is to create a vibrant community for identifying, nurturing, and, ultimately, reaching women and babies.

Our common vision is that when such lifesaving, affordable, and acceptable innovations are delivered widely by frontline health workers and families, we will turn potential tragedy into joy for millions of families around the world.

This initiative was launched March 9 in Washington by Secretary Hilary Clinton, Gates Foundation Co-chair Melinda French Gates, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah.

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