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Affordable Innovation to Help Reduce Worldwide Maternal & Neonatal Deaths


While not all premature babies experience complications, being born too early can cause short-term and long-term health problems for premature babies. A larger version of the infographic can be found here.

A white paper has highlighted the range of cost-effective, proven solutions the global health community has at its disposal to help reduce maternal and neonatal deaths. 

The paper also outlines the initiatives GE Healthcare has committed to as international organizations, national governments and NGOs develop post-2015 plans for addressing maternal and infant health (MIH).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half a million babies in the United States—that's one in every eight—are born prematurely each year.* As the infographic illustrates, worldwide more than 20 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation). Across multiple countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 10 to 12% of babies born.

While not all premature babies experience complications, being born too early can cause short-term and long-term health problems for premature babies. Important developmental growth occurs up to the final weeks of pregnancy so conditions such as jaundice, which is characterized by yellow coloring of the skin and eyes, breathing challenges, and other medical issues can develop.

“Underlying maternal health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure; infections, nutritional problems such as either obesity or underweight may account for the continued problem of maternal and neonatal deaths,” said Gisela Abbam, Global Executive Leader, Healthcare Government Affairs & Policy at GE.

“Historical data and new analyses show that deaths from preterm birth complications can be reduced by over three-quarters even without the availability of neonatal intensive care.”

“I believe the lack of infrastructure at primary care level to support maternal and infant health is part of the problem,” she added. “Also in remote areas there is less access to medical care thereby reducing the interventions necessary to support both mothers and babies at all stages.”

The white paper, entitled: ‘GE’s Commitment to Addressing Maternal and Infant Health,’ has outlined the worldwide efforts in improving maternal infant health, especially in the poorer regions. Since the year 2000, 192 UN member states and 23 international organizations have committed to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).**

Two of these MDGs (4 and 5) are focused on improving maternal and infant health. In the intervening years, progress has been made in achieving these goals with a 41% reduction in child mortality and 47% in maternal mortality reduction between 1990 and 2011.*** Despite this progress, several dozen countries are in danger of not meeting MDGs 4 and 5 by 2015.

“There is a lot of concerted effort globally by governments, NGOs, WHO, UN and the World Bank but it is still going to be a challenge to achieve the MDGs globally unless the relevant governments make it an urgent priority,” said Abbam.

The white paper also details a number of initiatives that GE have initiated including its suite of maternal and infant health products that are closely linked to areas where there is the most need for maternal and infant care in the developing and developed world. GE’s maternal and infant care products include maternal and fetal monitors, infant warmers, ultrasound systems, neonatal monitors, and phototherapy systems.

GE has also put in place a number of cost-effective and innovative solutions. GE’s Vscan, a hand-held and battery powered ultrasound is one example of how developing countries are being provided with  scanning facilities in rural areas with little access to electricity and qualified healthcare workers.

Partnerships with communities and Governments is also high on the agenda with GE also partnering with the East Meets West Foundation (EMW) to develop solutions for maternal infant health. Some hospitals in which EMW has deployed the Breath of Life program have seen decreases of up to 70% in in-hospital deaths. The success of the relationship between GE and EMW was highlighted in a 2012 report on pre-term births, “Born Too Soon.”

A copy of the white paper is available to download here



*- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
** – OECD. The OECD and the Millennium Development Goals.

*** – UN. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013.