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One group fights to save the lives of thousands of newborns

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Religion and suspicion are large barriers for Nepal's aid program

An ongoing campaign in Nepal to cut down on the number of newborn deaths is being carried out by thousands of volunteers, aided by the U.S. Development Agency (USAID).

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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (
11/19/2014 (7 years ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: Asia, Nepal, Childbirth, Death, Family and Faith

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Bhumisara Upadhyay is just one of these volunteers, who visits pregnant women with a tube of antiseptic gel and hand them out for free.

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Traditionally, when a newborn's umbilical cord is cut, the stump is coated with a mixture of oils and turmeric, something that health experts believe may be the cause of many newborn deaths.

Within the first year of the program, the number of newborn deaths had dropped by 27%, and the plan is expected to incorporate more of the nation over the coming three years.

"When I had my own children 20-25 years ago, babies would just die overnight, no one understood why... it was like living in a graveyard," said Upadhyay.

"We used to say it was good to have lots of babies, because half would die before they learned to talk."

In Nepal, two-thirds of all babies are born at home.

The 42-year-old Upadhyay was just 17 when she had her first child, a baby girl, who luckily managed to survive.

"People use dity sickles to cut the cord and apply cow dung, turmeric, oil to the stump," said Rambha Sharma.

Sharma is a matron at the Kohalpur Teaching Hospital in midwestern Nepal, which pioneered the use of the antiseptic chlorhexidine gel on infants.

"Babies end up with life-threatening infections like neonatal tetanus thanks to these traditional practices," she said.

Chlorhexidine is a widely used disinfectant, and as part of the program is freely distributed across 47 of Nepal's 75 districts. The gel only needs to be applied once to the stump and dries in minutes.

"The key thing is to apply it soon after birth, so it stays on the skin for the first 24 hours and protects babies when they are most vulnerable to infection."


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