The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO) in collaboration with United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), convened a four-day meeting in Uganda aimed at improving Neonatal Health (NNH) in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Under the theme, “Scaling up access to quality care for newborns”, the meeting focused on addressing the low uptake of guidelines and standards aimed at improving care for all newborns and reducing inequity. While guidelines have been disseminated, uptake is noted to be low due to the poor performance of health systems as a result of insufficient leadership, low quality of care and inadequate financial resources to implement them to scale. Moreover, neonatal health has not received the focus it deserves especially among special groups and during emergency situations.
The Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng opened the meeting and reported that in Uganda, efforts to improve the health of women and children are already underway. “This,” she said, “is possible because of strong political and national leadership.”
She added, “Now that the health of women and children is a priority, it is time to focus on quality maternal and newborn healthcare.”
Dr Miriam Nanyunja who spoke on behalf of the WHO Country Representative in Uganda noted that Sub-Saharan Africa contributes 38% of the 2.7 million neonatal deaths globally. “We need to ensure the provision of quality maternal health care from pregnancy to delivery as well as the postpartum period, in order to reduce preventable neonatal death and stillbirths.” She said
The UNICEF Representative to Uganda, Ms Aida Girma called for strengthened health systems in Africa adding that “we need to strengthen the health information management system and improve the interface between communities and the health care system.”
Ms Girma added that over a half of births in Africa occur without the support of health workers, exposing newborns to disease especially HIV&AIDS. She also highlighted the need for fortified care for the newborns.
In 2010, the Former United Nations Secretary-General, Dr Ban Ki Mon launched the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. The Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) Initiative, generated new attention and investment to address some of the most neglected causes of women’s and children’s mortality. After decades of neglect, newborn health was prioritized leading to the launch of a multi-stakeholders’ action plan “Every Newborn: an action plan to end preventable deaths” (ENAP), in 2014, to end preventable newborn deaths and stillbirths.
WHO and UNICEF have launched the Network for Improving Quality of Care for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to reduce preventable maternal and newborn illness and deaths, and to improve every mother’s experience of care. The Quality of Care Network will support countries in achieving their targets agreed under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths, and stillbirths, and to work towards universal health coverage.