Mercy Ships And The Peace Corps Help Babies Breathe

22 October 2015

Every year, an estimated one million newborns die because they are unable to breathe. A large proportion of these deaths could have been prevented.

Those sobering facts from the World Health Organization are the motivation for the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) course, an innovative initiative developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in collaboration with numerous health organizations.

The premise is simple but powerful

by teaching birth attendants in resource-limited countries how to perform simple newborn assessment and resuscitation techniques, much needless death and heartbreak can be avoided.

MGB150121_HELPING_BABIES_BREATHE_KK0090What does the HBB course include?

The courses uses a bag and mask provided by Laerdal Global Health, the nonprofit arm of Laerdal Medical. According to Laerdal’s website, the Helping Babies Breathe program led to a reduction of 47% in early newborn mortality and 24% in rates of stillbirths in Tanzania.

Mercy Ships partners with Peace Corps volunteers

Partnering with Peace Corps volunteers brought this life-saving education to 10 rural health centers in Madagascar. The program is born out of the Mercy Ships desire to affect long-lasting development by equipping healthcare providers and communities with vital education.

Krissy Close, the Mercy Ships Capacity-Building Manager, explains the advantages of the partnership:

Partnering with the Peace Corps is an opportunity to expand influence. They have access to primary healthcare centers out in the rural areas. Even more than the access, they have the trust of the communities. They have lived and worked in their villages for a year, and they have built the relationship that is needed to influence behavior change. Our ship gives the tools for change – training on how to do the response, the equipment to do it, and the documentation and information to train others.”

In January, 10 Peace Corps volunteers participated in a one-day HBB course on the Africa Mercy. It was quite a success, as the volunteers quickly picked up the new skills. Then, armed with materials and manikins, they returned to their respective villages to provide HBB training to the local healthcare workers.

Follow-up team to visit

In May a team was sent to the 10 villages to evaluate the effectiveness of the course and to address any issues. They found tremendously encouraging evidence of change. One local midwife said, “Giving life to a baby is really incredible.” She had been faced with a baby who was born silent, limp and blue. After soothing the mother by saying, “Have courage. Your baby will be okay,” she used her newfound skills and equipment to save the baby’s life.

A local nurse said, “This was such beneficial training because I didn’t always know what to do for a baby … and I would send patients to a bigger hospital, but they couldn’t afford it. Now I am confident in resuscitating a newborn, and people can trust me.

One Peace Corps volunteer used the training as a platform for advocacy. It increased her community’s faith in the health center, and more women were prompted to come to the center to give birth safely instead of giving birth at home.

Another Peace Corps volunteer said, “This whole project – being able to offer this training to my health center, as well as the trip to the ship, is definitely the highlight of my Peace Corps service so far. The impact we can have with a small amount of targeted investment is huge. And it feels good to know I’ve made a difference.”

A very small investment of time, money and materials goes a long way

the training will potentially impact 8,000 to 12,000 people in his region.

A local health center director expressed her gratitude for the training: “Thank you so much for this training. Thank you for caring for us, for our patients. Thank you for coming to visit us. Thank you to Mercy Ships for all you have done for our country and our people. God bless you!

We cannot wait to hear the continuing stories of lives saved and changed … the stories of babies who have been given the gift of life because of this program.

Story by Eunice Hiew