U.N.-supported health conference looks to save millions of newborns

Certain interventions like exclusively breastfeeding after birth and using low cost medicines could save millions of babies annually, according to a United Nations statement at the first-ever Global Newborn Health Conference on Monday.

Hundreds of health officials and government representatives gathered in Johannesburg for the conference. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered an address to the audience via Agostinho Zacarias, the U.N.'s resident coordinator of South Africa.

"The Global Newborn Health Conference can add to the growing global momentum as the effort to reach the (Millennium Development Goals) enters its final stretch," Ban said. "I count on you to build on this progress by taking bold and determined action now to save millions of lives in the future."

Representatives from 50 countries participated in the four-day conference, which focused on scaling up high-impact, low-cost interventions to address three major newborn mortality causes: infection, birth asphyxia and prematurity. According to UNICEF, three million children die within their first month of life each year from treatable and preventable causes.

"We need to act on the evidence available that clearly demonstrates that simple interventions for mothers and children work," Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF's deputy executive director, said. "We now need the political will to deliver and turn goals into lives saved."

The conference highlighted the use of low-cost health strategies, equipment and medicines, in addition to helping nations develop action plans to reduce mortality rates of infants.

"I am heartened that you will launch the Global Newborn Action Plan, building upon two initiatives that work to advance the goals of Every Woman Every Child: the 'Born Too Soon' effort on preterm birth and the initiative, 'A Promise Renewed' for child survival," Ban said.

The Every Woman Every Child effort was launched in 2010 and has the goal of saving 16 million women and children by 2015 through the mobilization of civil society, the private sector, multilaterals and governments to address significant health challenges facing women and children. A Promise Renewed is a campaign led by UNICEF to sharpen action plans for child survival, generate momentum and track and report the progress of child survival strategies.