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Neonatal resuscitation program dramatically decreases infant mortality

A nationwide neonatal resuscitation training program under a public-private partnership has helped prevent 150,000 newborn deaths and disabilities over the past decade in China.

Starting in 2004, the program jointly operated by the National Health and Family Planning Commission and Johnson Johnson has trained 250,000 medics, mostly obstetrics doctors, pediatricians, and midwives nationwide performing resuscitation for newborns suffering birth asphyxia.

“The program has managed to reduce newborn mortality by 75 percent,” said Song Li, the women and children’s health chief of the commission, at an awareness raising event on Friday.

Official statistics showed it had a prevalence of 5 to 10 out of 100 newborns and has been among the leading causes of neonatal mortality in China, which on average welcomes 16 million newborns each year.

Birth asphyxia happens when a baby’s brain and other organs do not get enough oxygen before, during or right after birth. This can happen without anyone knowing. Without oxygen, cells cannot work properly. Waste products like acids build up in the cells and cause temporary or permanent damage, said medical experts.

“The program helps enhance the capacity particularly at grassroots level hospitals and reduce newborn deaths and disability substantially,” said Wang Huishan, a researcher of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

She stressed the training should become standard and include retraining to keep skills updated and refreshed among clinical doctors.

William Keenan, a senior researcher of the American Pediatric Society, said maternity hospitals are required to get licensed to ensure that staff are competent in neonatal resuscitation.

In the US, birth asphyxia causes 1 to 1.5 deaths out of every 1,000 newborns, he said.

Besides, it can lead to permanent severe conditions like brain palsy, said Ye Hongmao, a veteran specialist in neonatal critical care.

“It’s crucial to perform the resuscitation within one minute of the onset of birth asphyxia,” he added.

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