The year 2020 has been unique in many ways, leading us into a new decade posing serious challenges such as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic or rising conflict and humanitarian crises, placing women, newborns, children, and adolescents at particular risks. Yet this is also the start of a new decade with new opportunities for babies to survive and develop to their best potential. Maternal and newborn health is still off track from political agendas in too many countries. The lives of millions of mothers and newborns could be saved by expanding care for women and adolescents during pregnancy, before, during and after birth. Promoting healthy behaviours and practices at household and community levels, investing in quality care, supporting parents physically and emotionally, providing respectful care throughout pregnancy and birth and ensuring basic and specialised in patient-care for newborns and the provision of focused follow-up, are essential. With greater investment, the right political commitment and the will to transform and improve maternal and newborn care, making maternal and newborn health a priority, we can improve the lives of mothers and babies globally and impact the future of our societies. Cost-effective solutions exist to prevent preterm birth, manage preterm birth complications, and helping newborns to survive and thrive. Everywhere.

  • Babies born too soon refers to babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.
  • Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under 5, causing an estimated 1 million deaths in 2015 globally.
  • An estimated 15 million babies are born preterm every year – more than 1 in 10 babies around the world.
  • Rates of preterm birth are rising in the majority of countries with adequate data. Across 184 countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% of babies born.
    (World Health Organization, key facts preterm birth (02/2018)
Skin-to-skin contact as early after birth and continuously as possible has positive and protective effects, including e.g. regulation of cardiac and respiratory rates, prevention of sepsis, hypothermia and hypoglycaemia, reduced hospital readmission. It has been linked to better reflexes at term and better development at preschool age and beyond. It also supports early initiation and continuation of exclusive breastfeeding.

Supporting Families:

Parents who are actively involved in the care of their newborn and are in close physical and emotional contact with their baby as early after birth as possible and during hospitalisation can have great benefits on the short- and long-term outcome of their baby, including for example: less need for respiratory support, increased weight gain, improved breastfeeding, shortened hospital stay, less readmission to hospital, or better neurodevelopmental outcome. Active involvement reduces parental stress, equips parents in better taking care of their baby and has positive effects on the parent-child relationship and family life at home, after hospitalisation.

Head of High Care Neonatal Unit at Charlotte Maxeke Noma-Afrika Selekane, Known as super nurse Selekane has been in charge of the unit for more than 10 years. Photo Thulani Mbele. 01/05/2019

Supporting healthcare professionals:

Evidence based, high-quality treatment and care provided in a timely, people centred manner, by a well-trained, specialised multidisciplinary team and safe staffing levels improve health outcomes and enhance staff satisfaction.

  • Newborn health is closely linked to adequate numbers of qualified nurses and/or midwives working per shift in a newborn unit.
  • Multidisciplinary teams provide the necessary skill set to deliver appropriate high-quality inpatient care.
  • Specialists help enhance feeding, neurodevelopmental and social outcomes of the baby and form part of a broader support system for families during and after hospital stay.

Strengthening health systems:

Ensure optimal working conditions including sufficient resources, adequate staff training and supervisory support, as well as support by hospital managers and health policy makers and promote respect for healthcare providers and their work.

  • Provide specific and continued training / continuous professional development and supportive supervision to advance skills and competencies, including safe use of WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and IPC (Infection, prevention and control) facilities.
  • Respect and recognise the profession and highly intense working conditions and responsibilities with e.g. incentives such as increased remuneration, career opportunities or establishment of a neonatal nursing cadre.
  • Establish innovative approaches to motivate and facilitate the work of clinical staff and identify ways to prevent distress and burn-out.
  • Ensure each level of care has the necessary staff per shift, equipment, commodities, supplies and diagnostics so that providers can safely care for babies born too soon, too small or sick.


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