The Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service on Tuesday launched two strategic documents to scale up interventions at reducing neonatal mortalities in the country.
The National Newborn Health Strategy and Action Plan (2019-2023) and Child Health Standards and Strategy (2017-2025) is expected to accelerate the country’s efforts at providing quality care for children and newborns in line with achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
At present, though Ghana’s neonatal mortality rate (NMR) has decreased by 14 per cent, from 29 per 1,000 live births in 2014 to 25 per 1,000 by 2017, the figure still falls short of the United Nations set targets to reduce NMR to 12 per 1,000 live births.
A 2018 Atlas for African Health Statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank and UNICEF shows that Ghana still has a long way to go in reaching the SDGs and at the current pace, the country can only reduce NMR to 20 per 1000 live births by 2030 as against the SDG target of 12 deaths per 1000 live births.
Launching the guidelines at the opening of the 8th Annual Newborn Stakeholders Conference in Accra, Deputy Minister of Health, Mr Alexander Kom Abban, explained that the guidelines would consolidate gains already made in the subject area to promote optimal care for all while making every effort to bridge any identified gaps of inequity.
“Conscious efforts will be made to improve care at the higher levels of service delivery with emphasis on caring for the at-risk, small and sick newborns, focusing extensively on intermediary or secondary care in all hospitals and on intensive or tertiary level care in all regional and teaching hospitals,” he said.
While acknowledging improvement in skilled deliveries at various health facilities from 55 per cent in 2007 to 79 per cent in 2017 (representing a 44 per cent increase), the deputy minister noted that the development makes it incumbent on “us all to do all within our power to provide newborn babies the best start in life.”
“As we look ahead, strategies such as task-sharing, telemedicine, private sector engagement, improved documentation and audit systems are but a few areas that must be seriously built upon.
“Without a concerted effort of all stakeholders, including families and communities, our goal of reducing neonatal mortality by 5 per cent each year for the next five years will not be met,” he held.
Describing the current NMR as “a modest but significant progress,” Country Representative of the WHO, Dr Owen Kaluwa feared Ghana “cannot meet the SDGs particularly in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) if we do not deliberately invest in mothers and newborns and strengthen the health systems to respond to their needs.”
“Every newborn must have needed basic essential newborn care at the primary level. For the small and sick newborn, the secondary level should be adequately equipped to offer special care and the tertiary levels should have the required standard neonatal intensive care facilities to offer advanced care,” he advised.
Dr Kaluwa, in expressing the resolve of the UN and its allied agencies to ensure a world in which every mother and newborn could survive and thrive, pledged to work closely with key stakeholders to implement cost-effective but proven interventions to enhance health outcomes.
The Director of the Family Health Division of the GHS, Dr Patrick Aboagye, mentioned interventions including follow up care of at risk babies, screening of newborns for neuro-developmental challenges eye and sickle cell diseases as initiatives that would be scaled up in coming years in addition to previous measures put in place to protect newborns.
He therefore called for collaborations among sector players and the general public to ensure the survival of babies and their growth into healthy children through an efficient nurturing care framework.
The 3-day conference on the theme; ‘Survive, Thrive and Transform: A call to action,’ had in attendance district and regional health directors, development partners and civil society groups to brainstorm on how to ensure the survival of newborns.
BY ABIGAIL ANNOH AND DANIEL ASANTE