First Embrace: Newborn Care in the Western Pacific Region

One newborn dies every 2 minutes in the Western Pacific Region. Two thirds of these deaths occur in the first three days of life and the major causes of death do not differ from any other region in the world (see below).

1) Preterm birth complications

2) Birth Asphyxia

3) Neonatal infections

So, what do we need to save these babies? A sophisticated newborn intensive care unit like we have in the UK or Japan? Maybe not…

The WHO led “Every Newborn: An Action Plan To End Preventable Deaths” stated that “essential newborn care” would save the most newborn lives. This includes but is not limited to  “hygienic care”, “thermal control”, “support for breastfeeding” and, if required, “newborn resuscitation”. In the Western Pacific Region, the World Health Organization (WHO) made those essential measures clearer through the development of “Early Essential Newborn Care (EENC)” including recommendations such as “immediate drying”, “immediate skin-to-skin contact”, “appropriately timed clamping and cutting of the cord”, “exclusive breastfeeding” and “routine care (eye care, vitamin K, immunisations, weighing and examinations)” 

Too simple? Common sense? Maybe… Yet it is not uncommon to see routine practices which do not align with EENC such as “routine unnecessary suctioning of healthy crying babies”, “cutting the cord immediately” and “swaddling babies and separating from mothers”. Not to mention “putting non-breathing babies upside-down and spanking them (oh, no!)”

WHO Western Pacific Regional Office is now trying to change these common practices in line with EENC, especially in the eight priority countries where newborn mortality is highest.


Last year, I worked in two countries, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, to observe how EENC has been implemented; helping every mother and baby to smile just like this picture!

For more information about EENC, take a look at these publications and help save every newborn:

Further Reading

  1. Action plan for healthy newborn infants in the Western Pacific Region (2014–2020)

  2. Every Newborn: an action plan to end preventable deaths (2014, WHO)


Dr Tomomi Kitamura (Ms), MD (paediatrician), MSc(Trop Paeds)

National Center for Global Health and Medicine, Tokyo, Japan