After having two healthy baby girls, it would be easy to forget that childbirth doesn't always lead to happy outcomes. But, in fact, in many parts of the world, the birth figures are downright scary: according to the World Health Organization, there are 3.3 million stillbirths worldwide each year, and more than 4 million infants die before they turn one month. A recent study aimed to get down those numbers, and the results are impressive: the rate of stillbirths in rural areas of six developing countries fell more than 30 percent after birth attendants completed a basic training program in newborn care.
The three-day program covered newborn-care techniques, the importance of breastfeeding, ways to keep infants warm and dry, and signs of serious health problems. One health-care worker from each of the participating countries - Argentina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, and Zambia - traveled to the U.S. for training and then returned home to train other health-care workers, ultimately reaching 3,600 people. From a National Institutes of Health release:
The study authors concluded that the essential newborn care training was most effective in providing attendants needed skills and expertise in newborn resuscitation. The greatest decrease in stillbirth rates was among deliveries attended by nurses, midwives, and traditional attendants, all of whom, the researchers believe, would likely not have received such training.
"Our results show that training in essential newborn care can play a role in improving birth outcomes in the developing world," [Linda Wright, MD, scientific director of the NICHD Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research] said.
The study, which tracked more than 120,000 infants, was funded by the NIH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A paper appears in the Feb. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.