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Nepal's childbirth policies need urgent revision, experts say
Publication Date : 02-09-2013
Experts have urged Nepal to address a serious policy flaw that has made it one of the worst countries in saving infant lives even as it has gained international accolades for having made exemplary progress in reducing maternal mortality.
Reviewing Nepal’s achievements in meeting the deadline for United Nation's (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), experts said Nepal has the highest infant mortality rate in South Asia, and that the country needs to focus to helping more newborn babies to survive.
A demographic health survey showed that over 20,000 newborn babies die annually in the country. It also found that the number of neo-natal deaths, ie. deaths of babies less that 28-days-olds, has not seen a decline in the last one decade. This, experts said, calls for an urgent revision of the existing policies by the Nepalese government.
However, Nepal has shown significant reduction in its maternal mortality rate - from 770 deaths per 100,000 births, to 170 deaths per 100,000 births in 2010, as per UN estimation.
"It is ironic that in Nepal, mothers are being saved while their children are dying," said Dr Buburam Marasini, a senior officer at Nepal's Ministry of Health and Population at a three-day meeting with Unicef's South Asia regional office. The meeting brought together consultants and experts from different countries including US, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China.
"Nepal is among the top five South Asian countries with a high neo-natal death rate, after India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, said Unicef Nepal's regional maternal and newborn health specialist Dr Nuzhat Rafique.
In 2008, the Nepalese government initiated the community-based Newborn Care Package (Cbncp), which addressed major issues relating to neo-natal deaths, such as infection, birth injury and birth asphyxia.
However, the programme did not see success, said government officials.
During the three-day meeting, World Health Organisation representatives recommended nine "intervention" methods that could help reduce the number of neo-natal deaths, including better preparation and management of pre-term births, ie. births before 37 weeks, birth complications and better management and treatment of neo-natal infections.
Health ministry officials said that it needed to set a "vision" before implementing the recommendations.
"For instance, the revised policy should include administering antenatal corticosteroids for pre-term births, which is a medication given to the mother of the child to help it breathe normally once it is born," said Dr Padam Bahadur Chand who heads the ministry's Policy, Planning and International Coorpeation Division.