I know the headline of this post is a bit on the terrifying spectrum, but it’s the exact same phrase used on the subheading of a press release issued by Save the Children this week that highlights some of their major findings in this year’s State of the World’s Mother report. What I find astonishing about the U.S. being the industrialized country with the highest first-day death rate, is that it’s so unexpected for all of us that live here. We think that issues like infant mortality are problems faced by third world countries and that distance can make us a bit immune to it, but Save the Children is telling us that issues affecting our babies are hitting home and are, in fact, a global motherhood concern.
The new report shows that 50 percent more U.S. babies die on their first day—11,300 in 2011—than babies in all other industrialized countries combined. That’s due, in part, to the U.S.’s higher rates of preterm birth, which makes the first day particularly dangerous.
But what brought it even closer to home for me was that the report states that Latin America has made the most progress of any region in the world in reducing newborn mortality over the past 20 years. Even bigger than that — and this brought chills throughout my being — is that during that time, El Salvador — the country of my heritage — is the country that has reduced newborn mortality the most.
Wow! Tiny, impoverished, natural disaster-ridden El Salvador is taking matters into their own hands and standing up for the health and mortality of their own. I applaud you!!!
I was actually lucky enough to see first-hand some of the work Save the Children is helping fund and organize in El Salvador beyond the much-needed child sponsorships. The next day after our visit to Brenda, the girl we sponsor, and her community in a small rural pueblo in El Salvador, I got to visit the government-funded maternal hospital in San Salvador, El Salvador’s densely-populated capital city.
I was taken to meet the doctor running the Kangaroo Mother Care (Madre-canguro in Spanish) program and its biggest advocate, Dr. Roberto Edmundo Sánchez Ochoa, and was infected by his enthusiasm. Approximately 60 preterm babies per month, between the weeks of 28 and 31, are taken out of their incubators to spend at least eight hours per day nestled over their mother’s, or another caregiver’s, chest and feeling their warmth and heartbeat.
The program launched in 2011 in El Salvador as a model from the first one started in Colombia over 30 years ago. Kangaroo Mother Care has actually been shown more effective in saving preterm babies than incubators in many parts of the world. If it was made available to all moms and babies who could benefit, 500,000 babies could be saved a year.
Tanya Weinberg, Director of Media and Communications for Save the Children, shared with me that KMC is particularly good in low-resources settings because many hospitals around the world don’t have the resources needed to care for preterm babies. They either don’t have enough incubators, lack the ability to maintain them, or run them continuously when electricity is unpredictable. And many mothers and babies don’t even have access to a hospital at all. There are also benefits beyond the warmth an incubator can give when a mother holds her tiny baby’s bare skin to her own – there is ease of breastfeeding, which has lifesaving properties of its own (builds immunity and protects against malnutrition and contaminated water)… not to mention the somewhat less quantifiable soothing nature of a mother’s touch.
And the benefits for the parents are also huge. Imagine if you have a preterm baby and instead of the minimal visits to your newborn child in an incubator you were actually given a wrap and a safe room to be with him while you nurse and care for him at his most vulnerable stage? For these women in El Salvador it means traveling via bus or truck from miles and miles away, many leaving their other children behind during the day, to hold their newborn next to them all day until they are ready to leave.
The sight is beautiful. See for yourself the images of my day visiting one of the three successful Kangaroo mother care units in El Salvador and it will be obvious why this is helping save so many children’s lives and could help more, including here in the U..S., if implemented.
Learn more and take action at www.savethechildren.org/mothers, where you can also watch celebrity and everyday-moms share their first moments with their babies.
All photos courtesy of Save the Children.