By Meluse Kapatamoyo
The risk of an infant to infection and death can be reduced by as much as 20 percent by cleansing the newborn’s umbilical cord with the antiseptic chlorhexidine, a new study has revealed.
According to the study funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, which was led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and conducted in rural Bangladesh, is the latest in a series of studies showing that umbilical cord cleansing with chlorhexidine can save lives.
A randomized controlled trial of over 29,000 infants in Bangladesh found that cleansing a newborn’s umbilical cord with chlorhexidine reduced an infant’s risk of infection and death by 20 percent.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID said “giving birth and a child’s first week is a risky time for a mother and her newborn”.
Approximately one-third of the 3.1 million neonatal deaths that occur each year can be attributed to infections that develop into life-threatening conditions. The umbilical cord is a common entry point for infection to the surrounding tissue as well as internally into the baby’s bloodstream.
“These studies provide evidence of a simple, low-cost technology that can prevent illness and death for the most vulnerable children. USAID is committed to transforming research into better results and access to life-saving interventions,” Dr Shah added.
A similar study was conducted in Pakistan by researchers from Aga Khan University where data showed that cord cleansing reduced the risk of infection in babies by 42 percent and mortality by 38 percent. The studies supported earlier research in Nepal, which showed that cleansing the umbilical cord with chlorhexidine resulted in a 24 percent decrease in mortality compared to children who received dry-cord umbilical care.
Neonatal deaths are responsible for more than 40 percent of an estimated 8.8 million deaths of children under the age 5 each year worldwide. Over half of such deaths are as a result of serious infection