Although Zambia has made tremendous gains in reducing overall death among children, it has failed to make similar progress in reducing newborn deaths specifically. Today, the country continues to face one of the highest infant death rates in the world. Yet for years, government policies did not focus on newborn health, and government decision-makers rarely addressed the issue directly. By 2011, PATH, a trusted health partner in Zambia, recognized an urgent need—and an opportunity to turn the tide for the country’s youngest citizens.
Key gaps in the national health system were one reason for Zambia’s high newborn mortality rate. Many Zambian families did not have access to the health services and products their newborn babies needed. This was due in large part to the lack of a formalized government commitment to infant survival, backed by a national strategy and policy to guide priorities and support activities. Without these tools, Zambian leaders had no roadmap for action. As a result, it was difficult to get resources allocated to improve newborn health. In addition, government officials and health workers did not have the resources or support to achieve tangible gains.
How advocacy unlocked innovation
PATH advocates took action. First, we created a coalition with the Zambia Ministry of Health, the Zambia Pediatrics Association, and key global partners. Together, we secured and introduced a new newborn health policy framework to provide clear goals and a roadmap to achieve them. These included increasing funding for newborn health, improving health worker training, integrating newborn care with other maternal and child health services, and raising political visibility for newborn health.
By 2014, this led to two key policy changes: a new set of Essential Newborn Care guidelines and revised Integrated Management of Childhood Illness standards that include neonatal guidelines.
The new policies—along with continued efforts to ensure that they are adequately implemented and funded—provide gold-standard guidance for health workers, coordinate their efforts at the community and national levels to reach more infants, and set out a clear path to help service innovations and new health technologies reach those who need them most.
They also demonstrate the power of smart advocacy and public policy. Together, PATH and our partners helped leaders translate Zambia’s commitment, resources, and expertise into the care and support newborns need to survive and thrive.
Project partners: The Zambia Ministry of Health, Zambia Pediatrics Association, Save the Children, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization