"I was naturally worried and getting impatient. Now
I am happy to know that my daughter is safe from infection,"
18-year-old Shrestha said at the Dhulikhel hospital, 30 km (19
miles) east of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.
The baby was briefly separated from her mother when an antiseptic
gel known as "Navi Malam", or chlorhexidine, was applied to avoid
umbilical cord infection — a main cause of newborn deaths in the
impoverished Himalayan nation.
Made by local firm Lomus Pharmaceuticals and backed by the
government, the U.S. aid agency and other donors, the gel was
introduced in 2011 in hospitals across Nepal and has helped to
reduce the number of babies dying from umbilical cord infection.
Trials have shown a 23 percent drop in newborn deaths due to
infection since the gel was introduced, according to USAID.
Nepal was the first country to adopt chlorhexidine for newborn cord
care, with Nigeria and Madagascar in the process of implementing it
in their health programs.
"The United States will work to bring the chlorhexidine to the
world," Rajiv Shah, the head of USAID, said during a visit to Nepal
last month while presenting the government with the "Pioneers Prize"
for leading the cord care program.
TABOOS AND HURDLES
Nepal emerged from a decade-long civil war in 2006 and political
infighting since then has deepened the economic woes of its 27
million people, a quarter of whom live on less than $1.25 a day. The
crisis has hit development efforts, driving thousands of young
people to seek work abroad.
Experts say Nepal's public health sector is in tatters, with fewer
than 2,000 doctors and some 63,000 health workers at about 100
hospitals. Many of the country's 4,000 villages do not have a health
facility and nearly two-thirds of babies are born at home without
the presence of skilled midwives.
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Part of the reason for the high number of newborn deaths, experts
say, is because pregnancy in the majority-Hindu nation is attached
with taboos that confront women with social and religious hurdles to
Many women cannot discuss pregnancy with anyone or take a decision
to seek medical help without the family's consent.
Families often apply a paste of turmeric powder, mustard oil and ash
to the newborn after cutting the umbilical cord, raising the risk of
infection and death.
The newborn and the mother are considered "unholy" for 11 days after
delivery and often have to live in a dark, cold and unhygienic room
with the mother lacking a nutritious diet.
Government officials say many people are still unaware that they
should go to health facilities and seek the assistance of skilled
"But things are gradually changing," said Baburam Marasini, a senior
Health Ministry official. "The use of the simple technology and the
low-cost naval gel has made a positive impact in reducing newborn
deaths due to infection."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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