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Saving newborn lives during disasters

01:35 AM May 08, 2014

Pregnancy is a scary time for all moms but in an emergency, those nerves can quickly turn into genuine terror.  1 in every 25 Filipinos lost their home to Yolanda and this was the third major typhoon to hit in as many years. Think of the terror of what that means – and the lengths that desperate mothers will go to protect their children when their house is literally collapsing around them. Think about what it means to be expecting a child and to go into labor in the midst of a storm like Yolanda.

The Philippines is amongst the world’s most disaster-prone countries and experts agree that extreme weather is becoming more common. The Government of the Philippines is doing a good job of improving its disaster preparedness and implementing systems to protect people in the most vulnerable areas. But if typhoons the size of Yolanda and Bopha continue to pound the poorest and marginalized families across the country, year on year, the annual task of rebuilding the health infrastructure becomes mammoth.

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More than 1 million people in the Visayas lost access to full health services after Yolanda, including 163,000 children under 5. More than 750 births were due to take place in affected areas every single day and, statistically, more than 100 of those were likely to have involved a potentially life threatening complication.

And yet, in Eastern and Western Samar and Eastern Leyte, only 7 percent of health facilities were able to provide a clean and safe delivery and only 4 percent had capacity for newborn resuscitation after Yolanda. A full month after the disaster, almost half of facilities in Eastern Visayas still had no electricity and more than a quarter had no clean water. Four months after the typhoon, only half of affected communities had seen their health centers reopen. That’s potentially 45,000 babies who were born without full medical care.

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Sadly, in the Philippines, an increasing percentage of under-5 deaths are occurring among newborn babies in the first month of life. These mostly preventable deaths are likely to have risen in number following Typhoon Yolanda – and are likely to have affected newborn girls disproportionately.

In order to prepare for the next major typhoon Save the Children has developed ‘The BEACON Box’, and we have put all of the tools and materials necessary to help a pregnant woman deliver in a safe and clean environment when the health system collapses and packaged in a stormproof box, of which 10,000 will be prepositioned in the most vulnerable Barangays in the Philippines. We must give newborns a fighting chance to survive, everywhere and always, even during a typhoon.

The Philippines is lucky enough to have one of Asia’s fastest growing economies.  Since 2000, the average income per head has almost tripled from $1,053 to $2,792. But in the 2014 State of the World’s Mothers Index, published by Save the Children, we can see that the wellbeing of Filipino moms and their newborn babies has actually slipped 5 positions in the global ranking in the same period.

Focusing more on saving newborn lives during emergencies will prevent immense suffering and is the best investment we can make for the collective future of the Filipino nation. Our long-term economic prospects depend on investments in health, nutrition and education, particularly the women and young children living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Children surviving and staying healthy means more children in school and able to learn, which enables them to grow up to be productive adults who can drive the sustained economic growth we all want for this country.

(Ned Olney is Country Director of Save the Children Philippines, an organization engaged in helping various communities in the country, particularly those affected by calamities and disasters) 

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TAGS: Bopha, Eastern Samar, extreme weather, pregnancy, Save the Children, Yolanda aid
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