My Cape Town conference diary

Leon Lidigu, Nation Media Group Health reporter, gives a speech during the fourth edition of Quality Healthcare Kenya Awards (QHKA). The event was held at Radisson Blu Hotel, UpperHill on April 05, 2023.

Photo credit: Photo by Kennedy Amungo

What you need to know:

  • According to WHO, E-Motive may provide a major breakthrough in reducing deaths from childbirth-related bleeding
  • E-Motive is a plastic sheet with a funnel-like pouch attached to the bottom edge.

Earlier this month, for the first time in eight years, more than 1,500 stakeholders from around the world came together in Cape Town, South Africa, for a biannual International Maternal Newborn Health Conference that aimed at accelerating solutions to improve maternal and newborn survival as well as preventing stillbirths.

According to AlignMNH, a knowledge sharing platform that aims to rapidly share science, evidence and programmatic experience across the maternal and newborn health communities as well as creating space for stakeholders to share, learn, brainstorm and align around priority issues for improving maternal and newborn survival and preventing stillbirth, the conference will be held in every two years to maintain global progress towards improving maternal and newborn health.

The first ever global advocacy and implementation guide on preventing and addressing stillbirths along the continuum of care was also birthed.

Scientists seized the moment to announce some four key revolutionary solutions they have been working on.

They also launched eye-opening reports which include the Born Too Soon: Decade of Action on Preterm Births report, the second edition of Focusing on Micronutrient Supplements in Pregnancy report and the Improving Maternal and Newborn Health and Survival and Reducing Stillbirths-Progress Report 2023. There were more highlights.

The E-Motive

Researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a new solution, which they call E-Motive, that they say may provide a major breakthrough in reducing deaths from childbirth-related bleeding around the world.

This came after a trial of a set of interventions to manage postpartum haemorrhage, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found a 60 percent reduction in heavy bleeding after vaginal births.

The E-Motive is a plastic sheet with a funnel-like pouch attached to the bottom edge.

The plastic sheet – which the researchers called a “drape” and which costs Sh200 –  is slid in underneath the patient and tied around her waist after she has delivered so that it collects blood in a pouch that is located and loosely hangs off the bottom end of the hospital bed.

According to Dr Pascale Allotey, the director for sexual and reproductive health and research at the WHO, postpartum haemorrhage is scary, not always predictable, but absolutely treatable. Nonetheless, its impacts around the world are tragic.

“No woman should fear for her life when giving birth. Effective solutions to tackle postpartum bleeding need to be available and accessible so that all women can experience a safe birth and a healthy future with their families,” she said.

The global health body further disclosed that the study, which involved   over 200,000 women from Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania, was conducted in 78 hospitals between August 2021 and the end of 2022.

WHO explained that facilities could only be part of the study if they handled between 1,000 and 5,000 vaginal births each year.

The experts also observed a substantial reduction in the rate of blood transfusions for bleeding, which is of particular importance in low-income countries where blood is a scarce and expensive resource.

The best ‘medicine’ in newborn care

Ms Hema Magge, a paediatrician who leads the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health team’s efforts to improve neonatal survival and developmental potential at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reminded the gathering that over the past 20 years, child mortality has declined dramatically but death among newborns has not.

“Each year, about 1.6 million babies who are born prematurely or have low birth weight die in their first month. That’s why it’s so important to figure out what works to improve newborn outcomes,” she noted while highlighting that in multiple studies, a simple intervention has been shown to improve outcomes for newborns as well as their mothers.

“It’s called kangaroo mother care, named for the way the baby is placed on a mother’s chest after birth. According to a 2021 estimate, such care immediately after birth could save 150,000 more lives each year globally compared with the current recommendation of starting it only once a baby is stable,” Ms Magge said.

The new tool against stillbirths

Did you know that globally in 2019, an estimated two million babies were born still at 28 weeks or more of gestation?

Stillbirth rates differ across the globe, with a risk that is up to 23 times higher in the worst affected countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened stillbirth rates, according to initial findings. Yet the majority of stillbirths are preventable.

This is why the birth of the new global advocacy and implementation guide on preventing and addressing stillbirths along the continuum of care is very important.

“Across the world, a stillbirth occurs every 17 seconds. This translates to about 1.9 million babies stillborn every year. And, tragically, most of these deaths could have been avoided with high-quality care during the antenatal and intrapartum periods,” the new guide states.

According to AlignMNH, parent and family engagement are critical for advancing efforts to end preventable stillbirth and support those affected.