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Preventing child deaths in Nigeria and across the world

A week after publishing its mothers and babies ‘risk indexes’, Save the Children has announced a new partnership to help save the lives of infants.

In its ‘State of the World’s Mothers’ report published last week, Save the Children highlighted the high rates of newborn mortality across the world, with many infants dying from preventable illnesses and infections. For example, around 15% of all newborn deaths worldwide are caused by severe infections such as sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis. Now Save the Children has announced that it will join up with the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in order to save the lives of one million children over the next five years.

One of the key medical products which will help to achieve this goal is a new antiseptic gel for cleaning the umbilical cord stump of newborns. Many newborn infections are caused by bacteria entering the baby’s bloodstream through a recently cut umbilical cord. A low-cost antiseptic called chlorhexidine (CHX) is already available. A tube of CHX costs around 25 cents and is particularly applicable for use in unhygienic environments.

But despite the low cost, the product is commonly used in just two developing countries – Nepal and Nigeria. (With its large population and high newborn mortality rates, Nigeria has the second largest number of newborn deaths in the world, with over 250,000 babies dying each year.) Save the Children hopes that by introducing another inexpensive antiseptic treatment, more countries will routinely sterilise the cut cords of newborns.

Another medical treatment to be championed by the new partnership is a powdered antibiotic available in child-friendly doses. This will be used to help fight pneumonia, one of the main killers of young children. In Nigeria, 17% of deaths among children under five are caused by pneumonia (according to 2010 data from the World Health Organisation).

An Alertnet article on the new partnership reports that GSK has pledged to give 23 million dollars over the course of its joint working with Save the Children. Some of this money will come from donations made by its worldwide staff, while some of the funding will be from contributions from research and development (R&D) programmes. Save the Children will also have a seat on a new paediatric R&D board run by the company to encourage the creation of new life-saving treatments and to bring to bear the charity’s experience of the practicalities of treating children in some of the poorest and most remote communities of the developing world.

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