WHO urges countries to adopt First Embrace to save millions of newborns

Within 4 years, the Early Essential Newborn Care has benefitted 4 million newborns annually

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 17 November 2017
The care plan focuses on drying right after birth followed by skin-to-skin contact until completion of the first breastfeed, timely clamping and cutting of the cord, and exclusive breastfeeding. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr__

Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm and more than a million die as a result. In order to accelerate efforts to save millions of newborn infants, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) asked countries to implement a set of simple interventions beneficial for mothers and newborns, called Early Essential Newborn Care (EENC).

According to the WHO, millions of newborns remain at risk to hypothermia and hospital-acquired infections but can be protected through skin-to-skin contact. The risk of death and infection increases also due to infant formula. Early initiation of breastfeeding, in particular colostrum as well as exclusive breastfeeding has been scientifically proven to benefit babies.

The core of EENC is the First Embrace -- immediate and thorough drying after birth followed by skin-to-skin contact until completion of the first breastfeed, appropriately timed clamping and cutting of the cord, and exclusive breastfeeding. EENC has now helped over 30,000 health workers improve the quality of the care they provide.

First Embrace keeps babies calm, stimulates breathing, prevents hypothermia, reduces anaemia, prevents brain haemorrhage, strengthens immunity from infections, and provides adequate and appropriate nutrition from breastfeeding, said WHO.

"We work very closely with countries and WHO to make EENC available to all mothers and babies in our region," said Wivina Belmonte, Officer-in-Charge of UNICEF's East Asia and the Pacific region. 

Kangaroo mother care (KMC) is where preterm and low birth weight babies are maintained in skin-to-skin contact, fed breastmilk and monitored closely for infection. It has been known to save lives for over 30 years. While its prevalence in the region is improving, it is not yet applied to two-thirds of all preterm babies. 

Launched in Manila, March 2015 by WHO and UNICEF, First Embrace has been operationalised in eight priority countries with the highest burden of newborn deaths in the region: Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Vietnam. This year, it has been expanded to countries outside the region.

"Within four years, EENC has been introduced in 17 countries, benefitting 4 million newborns annually with improved care. This is a remarkable achievement, but we still have 28,000 more health facilities to go," said Howard Sobel, WHO Coordinator for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, Western Pacific Region.

In Da Nang, Vietnam, WHO and UNICEF called on countries participating at the Second Biennial Meeting on Accelerating Progress in Early Essential Newborn Care Progress, August, to redouble efforts at improving maternal and newborn care. The forum provided an opportunity for countries to exchange experiences, strategies and develop a roadmap for scaling up EENC in the region. 

"To take this to the next level, political commitment and financial investments are essential," said Belmonte.

Vietnam, which is the host country for this forum has made tremendous efforts in scaling up EENC since 2015. EENC has now been introduced to all 63 provinces with close to 9,000 health facility staff coached. Clinical practices have also drastically improved and 78 per cent of term babies receive skin-to-skin contact and are exclusively breastfed in the immediate newborn period.


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