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Battling Infant Mortality in Africa and Beyond

Of the 139 million children born every year, over 3 million die in the neonatal period. While child mortality rates have experienced a steep decline in many parts of the developing world, in sub-Saharan Africa the number of deaths has actually increased, according to the United Nations. And the real tragedy is that most of these deaths are preventable.  Of all the people being impacted by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the children of the world and the women who birth them are the foremost in the minds of the rural health team at GE. 

Across the Globe, child survival remains a major public health concern. Deaths related to childbearing remain a serious challenge, and GE understands that a vast majority of these deaths could be prevented if women and their babies had access to basic skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the first days after delivery. Today, 50 percent of global births occur in underserved urban settings where access to affordable technology remains limited. Across the globe, a significant percentage of the populations live in rural areas. Protecting the health of mothers and babies in rural counties is GE’s foremost priority in rural health.

Last week Durban, South Africa, hosted over 2,000 delegates who are on the front lines of the battle against infant mortality — midwives,   and other healthcare professionals — for the International Congress of Midwives (ICM). These are the people who work with pregnant women and newborns every day, and these are the people who may have the greatest impact on achieving two of the UN’s ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDG); MDG 4 aims to reduce child mortality worldwide by two-thirds from 2000 to 2015, and MDG 5, aims to improve maternal health.

At the congress, GE Healthcare demonstrated its portfolio of maternal-infant care products, ranging from ultrasound, fetal monitoring devices, baby warmers and phototherapy devices, offering midwives effective tools that support a continuum of care from conception to childbirth and infant care.

“In many places, the main barrier to using this potentially life-saving equipment is economic,” says Judy Moore, Clinical Applications and Marketing Manager for maternal-infant care EMEA at GE Healthcare. “In Developing nations, hospitals, clinics and midwives aren’t able to afford costly equipment, and governments invest very little in healthcare. One challenge faced globally is the limited availability of professionals trained in basic maternal and neonatal healthcare.


Prevention Through Targeted Technologies

Developing regions such as sub-Saharan Africa are where GE’s healthymagination commitments come face to face with the greatest need. Through healthymagination, the company is striving to enable greater access to high-quality healthcare for more people at an affordable cost. To this end, GE Healthcare is expanding its maternal-infant care portfolio to offer more products to over 80 lower-income countries. Included already are safety-tested, affordable and easy-to-use infant care products that provide warmth for newborns, phototherapy to treat jaundiced infants and incubators for babies.

“One cause of infant mortality and morbidity is hypothermia — babies getting cold,” Moore says. “For every one degree decrease in temperature in premature babies there is a 28 percent increase in the risk of mortality.  By providing effective, high-quality and easy-to-use products, with basic education, we believe we can make a major difference in the region.”

In developing countries, where at least 20 million low-birth-weight babies are born every year, warmers and incubators are critical lifesaving devices. Designed for operational ease, GE Healthcare’s Lullaby Warmer™ is an infant warmer that is priced 70 percent lower than imported baby warmers of the same class, while adhering to all required safety standards.

GE Healthcare will also offer a highly versatile and low-cost warming device to be available initially in India. In partnership with nonprofit organization Embrace, the warming device can keep a newborn warm for up to six hours — long enough for most newborns to be transported to a regional hospital or clinic, a particular need in rural areas where so many people lack access to a nearby healthcare center and where hypothermia is a significant contributor to neonatal mortality. Costing less than $200, the warming device consists of three components: a cozy sleeping bag to swaddle the baby, a sealed pouch of wax that radiates warmth, and a heater. The pouch is warmed with an electric heater and fits in a compartment in the sleeping bag.

Another GE Healthcare product that has a large potential in rural and underserved markets is the award-winning Vscan™— GE Healthcare’s handheld portable ultrasound scanner. Its clinical applications are currently being assessed for a wide range of diseases and conditions,.


A Focus on Sustainable Solutions

Healthymagination is GE’s one vision for making healthcare better and more available to provide a better quality of life for all people.  Our goal is to continuously develop innovations that help clinicians and healthcare providers deliver high-quality healthcare at lower cost to more people around the world.

At ICM, GE Healthcare hosted two symposiums to educate midwives about healthcare technologies they can use to provide better care for mothers and newborns. The first; “Innovative Solutions for Rural Healthcare” was presented by Janeen Uzzell, Director of Global Programs for GE, healthymagination. This session offered an overview GE’s commitment to rural health through reverse innovation, and presented tools and methods suited for midwives serving rural communities. The second; “Basic Electronic Fetal / Maternal Monitoring – Hints and Tips for Safe Practice”, led by Professor Peter Macdonald from the University of Pretoria, offered a practical workshop  on safe and effective electronic fetal monitoring to help reduce risks to new-borns and mothers.

When asked about GE’s focus on rural healthcare solutions, Janeen Uzzell, Director of Global Programs for the company responded; “GE has the passion, technology, commitment, and resources to enhance each nation’s ability to solve healthcare challenges, and we are committed to striving towards sustainable improvements in maternal and infant survival rates. GE is here because every mother deserves a safe birth and every child deserves a full life.”