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Contact: Ellen Cole, 206.285.3500, ecole@path.org

Seattle, December 1, 2005—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced $84.3 million in grants to help prevent newborn illness and death in 18 developing countries. The grants will expand access to low-tech, low-cost interventions, such as antibiotics and clean childbirth kits, which have the potential to save millions of lives.

“As a parent, I can’t imagine anything more devastating than the loss of a child,” said Melinda Gates. “It’s tragic that millions of newborns die every year, especially when these deaths are so easily preventable.”

Every year, four million newborns die in the first month of life, 99% of them in developing countries—equivalent to the number of babies born in the U.S. annually. Three out of four newborn deaths can be prevented with low-cost tools such as antibiotics for pneumonia, sterile blades to cut umbilical cords, and teaching mothers the importance of skin-to-skin contact to keep their babies warm.

“Some global health problems, like AIDS, have no easy solution—but this isn’t one of them,” said Bill Gates. “The world has an opportunity to stop millions of newborn deaths each year.”

The two newborn health grants announced today include:

  • $60 million to Save the Children for newborn health projects in 18 developing countries
  • $24.3 million to the PATH to support 17 grassroots newborn and maternal health projects in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, India

Bill Gates noted that despite gains in other health areas in developing countries, there has been virtually no progress in reducing newborn deaths.

“If we want to save lives in a big way, we must do a better job of protecting infants, especially during the first month of life,” said Mr. Gates.

Melinda Gates called on governments and other donors to significantly increase resources for newborn health programs in developing countries. A recent study in The Lancet estimated that $6.1 billion per year is needed to provide widespread access to basic newborn health interventions, yet only $2 billion per year is being spent.

“No investment in global health has a greater return than saving the life of a newborn,” said Melinda Gates. “These lives can be saved at a very low cost—two prenatal doses of tetanus vaccine cost 40 cents, and a clean childbirth kit costs just 25 cents.”

“Saving Newborn Lives” initiative to expand to 18 countries

Save the Children will use the $60 million, six-year grant announced today to expand its highly successful “Saving Newborn Lives” initiative in developing countries.

The Saving Newborn Lives initiative, started with a $50.5 million Gates Foundation grant in 2000, has already reached more than 20 million mothers and babies with essential health services. The initiative helps ensure access to services such as skilled midwife care; prompt treatment of newborn infections; tetanus immunizations for pregnant women; and education about the importance of proper hygiene, warmth, and breastfeeding for infants.

“The Saving Newborn Lives initiative has had a huge impact on health practices,” said Anne Tinker, director of the initiative. “For example, over the past two years, the initiative has helped increase the proportion of newborns born at home who receive care within one week after birth from 30% to 57% in Bolivian communities, and from 32% to 46% at program sites in Bangladesh. Newborn deaths from tetanus infection in Pakistan have been cut in half—from 28,000 annually to 14,000.”

The new funding will allow Save the Children to improve and strengthen newborn health programs in 18 countries through the following activities:

  • Identifying, implementing, and evaluating “packages” of proven strategies for reducing newborn illness and death, to determine how resources can be used most efficiently in different settings
  • Integrating newborn care into existing maternal and child health programs
  • Developing and introducing new tools, such as topical antiseptics and moisturizers, to fight the three leading causes of newborn death: severe infections, breathing problems, and complications of prematurity
  • Helping countries to overcome policy and financial barriers to expanding newborn care

“In rural communities in India and other countries, newborn deaths are so commonplace that babies may not even be named until they survive for six weeks,” said Uzma Syed, Bangladesh Manager for Saving Newborn Lives. “Initiatives like Saving Newborn Lives hope to change that.”

“Sure Start” to support grassroots newborn health projects in India

PATH will use its $24.3 million, five-year grant to launch the “Sure Start” initiative, which will provide funding and technical support for 17 newborn and maternal health projects in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, India.

Sure Start will help households and communities employ simple, effective health measures to ensure safe childbirth and protect newborns at home, and expand access to maternal and newborn health services. PATH estimates that the initiative will reach about 600,000 newborns and 600,000 mothers over the next five years.

“Sure Start will enable grassroots organizations in India to significantly ramp up their newborn and maternal health programs,” said Dr. Christopher Elias, the President of PATH. “It will also help demonstrate how to improve newborn survival, even in the poorest communities.”

Specific activities of the “Sure Start” projects will include:

Increasing access to skilled birth attendants, either through home visits or by enabling women to give birth in medical facilities

  • Building networks of community health workers to assist birth attendants and visit mothers in the first few days after birth to educate them about how to keep newborns healthy; workers will be trained to provide home-based newborn care and to recognize conditions that require care at a clinic or hospital
  • Developing community savings programs, such as group insurance or income pools, to help cover the cost of emergency newborn care
  • Developing links among communities so they can share lessons learned and advocate jointly for greater attention to newborn health

PATH is an international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions that enable communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private-sector partners, PATH helps provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to promote greater equity in four areas: global health, education, public libraries, and support for at-risk families in Washington state and Oregon in the U.S. The Seattle-based foundation joins local, national, and international partners to ensure that advances in these areas reach those who need them most. The foundation is led by Bill Gates’ father, William H. Gates Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, and has an endowment of approximately $28.8 billion. www.gatesfoundation.org