Unicef urges Bangladesh to invest more to scale up newborn care
Unicef that launched a campaign to keep ‘every child alive’ in Bangladesh says investments in health services would be needed to make that happen.
The campaign focuses on the newborn care as most of under-5 deaths occur before children turn one month old.
bdnews24.com organised a roundtable in Dhaka in partnership with Unicef on Wednesday with a mission to save every newborn in Bangladesh. Organisers urged political leaders to declare it an election pledge ahead of the polls due in December.
The first political commitment came from the health minister, Mohammed Nasim, who vowed to cut down the newborn mortality rate.
Sheema Sengupta, deputy representative of Unicef Bangladesh, has said she is confident that the campaign will push politicians into greater accountability.
But she said there is a lot to be done, replying to bdnews24.com’s Editor-in-Chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi, who moderated the roundtable.
Sengupta said their focus is to get political commitments.
“It does not matter which party is in power. This has to be the commitment from the government of Bangladesh and for the government of Bangladesh. It’s simple. It’s what we need.”
The UN agency is supporting the government in upgrading facilities such as creating newborn care units in some hospitals and some other units in Upazila health complexes.
“Is it good enough to reduce the deaths significantly?” asked Khalidi.
“Investment in facilities is absolutely critical,” said Maya Vandenent, chief of the health section of Unicef Bangladesh.
About 30 percent of newborn deaths can be reduced with the well-managed special newborn care units being set up in hospitals, she said.
Vandenent said they are also in discussion with the government to set up more such units across Bangladesh.
This is to ensure that “all the children in every single district have access to this newborn care”.
She, however, said still there are many mothers who deliver at home.
Citing an example of tea garden workers, Vandenent said: “We need to bring the skilled birth attendants closer to them and make them understand how important this is to go to the facilities. The quality of care is also very important.”
Md Ziaul Matin, health manager of the health section of Unicef, praised Bangladesh for its own effort to reduce the newborn deaths.
Bangladesh started the newborn campaign even before the global launch. “We launched it in February, but Bangladesh started its own national campaign.”
“Bangladesh is well ahead of other countries,” he said, adding that the Bangladesh government has allocated Tk 3 billion for this special newborn care.
Khalidi asked whether it was enough. Matin said: “At least we have something.”
He, however, said stillbirths are a cause for concern for Bangladesh with 83,000 such births a year.
Khalidi cited an example of a couple who gave two stillbirths and later left Bangladesh to start a new life in a Western country. Now they have two children.
Matin said Bangladesh is still lagging in the quality of care.
“We need to invest more to ensure quality,” he said, adding that after a child is born, screening of their organs is also necessary.