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Saving babies’ lives

Six months after receiving specialized neonatal resuscitation training from a team of Latter-day Saint medical professionals, a doctor in Jordan reported that he had successfully used his new skills 60 times.
Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/BYUErdene Enkhtaivan holds her baby, resuscitated after birth by nurses in Mongolia. The nurses were trained in neonatal resuscitation by Mongolian doctors who had received training a year earlier from Latter-day Saint American doctors, participating in LDS Humanitarian Services neonatal training initiative.
Although relatively small on a worldwide scale, that number equates to something large: 60 lives, said Rich McKenna, director of Church Humanitarian Services.
“The essence of the program is that it saves babies’ lives,” he said. “This is not about giving away equipment and training professionals. The real value comes to a family that doesn’t have to suffer from the loss of a baby that they anticipated being born. For them the value is real personal.”
One of four major initiatives on which Church Humanitarian Services has focused in recent years, neonatal resuscitation training is aimed to save newborns; more than 1 million babies a year die at birth because of asphyxia. Other Church initiatives include clean water, vision treatment training and wheelchair distribution.
The World Health Organization has recognized birth asphyxia as one of the leading causes of neonatal mortality. Babies who do survive birth asphyxia often suffer severe disabilities. Resuscitation immediately after birth can change that.
The problem, however, is that in many areas of the world neonatal resuscitation is often done improperly or not at all, said Dean Walker, manager of the Neonatal Resuscitation Initiative for Church Welfare Services.
To rectify the problem the Church has provided neonatal resuscitation training in 46 countries around the world during the past three years. The Church partners in the effort with local entities, such as the local Ministry of Health. Volunteers use Church donated equipment, teach from the American Academy of Pediatrics text book, and train local medical professionals to resuscitate newborns who have breathing problems.
But that isn’t the program’s greatest strength. That comes, said Brother Walker, as those trained share what they have learned. Everyone who participates in the program is asked to train at least eight other medical professionals in the procedures.
It is a train-the-trainer approach, said Brother Walker. “The course serves as a refresher on specific skills, taught in a way that they can teach those skills to others.”
Follow-up studies by the Church are encouraging, he said, noting that second-generation trainees test as well as the people trained by Church volunteers. He estimates that a total of 28,000 were trained in 2003 and 2004, with 21,000 more being trained this year.
“The need is just tremendous,” Brother Walker said.
Program volunteers, wanting to help reduce infant mortality, now are training medical professionals in Ukraine, Angola, Laos, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Ecuador, and Nigeria, among other places.
In Jordan, the doctor who saved at least 60 babies in six months, participated in the training as a representative of his hospital. Doctors from more than 20 other hospitals in Jordan also received training. After the training, the Church donated to each hospital training equipment. The doctors then trained others on their staff — who, the Church hopes, will not only save the lives of dozens of babies, but also train other medical professionals. In essence, explained Brother McKenna, each of the participating hospitals in Jordan now has its own neonatal resuscitation training program.
In 2006, the Church hopes to provide training in 25 countries, all at the request of local priesthood leaders. “There is a great demand for (the training) and we are able to meet only a portion of the demand,” said Brother McKenna.
And as the program grows, so does the need for Latter-day Saint medical professionals — especially physicians including neonatologists and pediatricians — to volunteer time. A foreign language is very helpful, especially Spanish and Portuguese. Volunteers must be certified through the American Academy of Pediatrics in neonatal resuscitation or able to become certified, and be willing to donate seven to 10 days to the effort. Welfare Services assists with travel costs.
“When you finish training, (the recipients) are so appreciative of people giving their time and the Church giving its resources to make these things happen,” Brother Walker said.
For more information about neonatal resuscitation, please call (801) 240-6569 or go to www.providentliving.org.
E-mail: sarah@desnews.com

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