About 50,000 babies die from birth asphyxia in Ghana every year.
The Programme Manager for Newborn and Child Health of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Edward Antwi, said the figure could be more, given that some of the cases that occurred in home deliveries and outside recognised health facilities might not have been captured in the data.
Birth asphyxia happens when a baby’s brain and other organs do not get enough oxygen and nutrients before, during or right after birth.
It could happen before birth in the womb and result in stillbirths or during prolonged labour.
“In Ghana, on the average, one million babies are born every year, and with the current neonatal mortality rate of 17 per 1,000 live births, it means for every one million births, about 170,000 are dying, and out of this, 30 per cent are dying from birth asphyxia,” Dr Antwi said.
Stakeholders in neonatal care and child health are deliberating on reducing neonatal deaths, particularly asphyxia cases, across the country as part of efforts to reduce neonatal mortality.
About 100 participants in the 11th annual national newborns conference, which opened in Cape Coast last Tuesday, deliberated on reducing the incidence of asphyxia, strengthening sick newborn care at referral district hospitals and supporting new asphyxiated babies to survive, among others.
The conference, being held on the theme: “Imagine Ghana without Birth”, would also discuss the impact of neonatal deaths on families and the role of leadership in newborn care.
“Even though we do not know the true extent, even with the conservative information we have, about 30 per cent of all babies in Ghana die from birth asphyxia,” Dr Antwi stated.
He said it was known that in many parts of the country, many women delivered at home, and were not counted.
He called for adequately equipped hospitals to effectively reduce neonatal mortality in general in the country.
“A number of hospitals, especially the lower level facilities, don’t have what it takes to take care of the mothers and the babies,” he said.
Dr Antwi said part of the problem was with the level of commitment of health workers, and therefore advised health workers to be more committed to providing efficient and prompt health services.
Reducing newborn deaths
The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, in a speech read on his behalf by the Central Regional Director of Health, Dr Akosua Sarpong, said the first hour of newborns was critical.
The Minister said the reduction in neonatal deaths to 17 per 1,000 live births was significant although there was work to be done to achieve the targeted 12 per 1,000 live births.
He noted that inadequate equipment and staff, late referrals and poor education on breastfeeding were some of the causes of asphyxia deaths in newborns.
Mr Agyeman-Manu noted that the Ministry of Health was committed to working to further reduce newborn deaths and urged health workers and managers to effectively collaborate to reduce the incidence of birth asphyxia.
He thanked the partners for their continued support for the ministry towards improving health indicators.