An international team of researchers say that more than a million babies could be prevented from being stillborn or dying as newborns in developing countries every year, through simple and cheap healthcare measures to pregnant women, such as offering aspirin.
They called for governments and organizations to ramp up the care given to women and babies during pregnancy and birth in 81 low and middle income countries.
The researchers also estimated that one quarter of the world’s babies are born either premature or underweight, adding that almost no progress has been made in this area.
Eight proven and easily implementable measures could prevent more than 565,000 stillbirths in developing countries, according to a series of papers published in the Lancet journal. The measures include providing micronutrient, protein, and energy supplements; low-dose aspirin; the hormone progesterone; education on the harms of smoking; and treatment for malaria, syphilis, and bacteria in urine.
If steroids were made available to pregnant women and doctors did not immediately clamp the umbilical cord, the deaths of more than 475,000 newborn babies could also be prevented.
Implementing these changes would cost an estimated $1.1 billion, which is a “fraction of what other health programs receive,” said Per Ashorn, a lead study author and professor at Finland’s Tampere University.
Another study estimated that a simple and cheap treatment plan could reduce the rate of severe bleeding in women after giving birth by 60 percent. This involves a drape put under the woman to measure how much blood is being lost, combined with uterine massage, an intravenous drip, and some drugs to stop the bleeding.
While advances in modern medicine have certainly lowered the number of deaths among pregnant women and their babies, some developing countries seem to have the perception that such advances are costly and generally inaccessible, giving them the excuse not to focus on the problem for now. However, as the researchers have established, there are simple and cheap healthcare measures that can prevent such deaths. These are findings that health officials of developing countries can take advantage of as we strive to use our collective knowledge and experience to save as many lives as possible, which in this case, includes those of pregnant women and the babies they carry.*