June 21, 2021

How Does Conflict Affect Newborn Babies?

Written by: Executive Director, Heidi Cortez

In modern-day conflicts, civilians are increasingly exposed to war. In an estimation, since 2011, one in four people in the world live in a conflict zone. Often in these conflicts, civilian locations are bombed, including healthcare facilities. War indirectly affects civilians by creating high-stress levels leading to trauma disorders.  In our studies, we have found that war directly impacts newborn survival. A recent UNICEF report showed that Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia have the highest neonatal mortality rates. These are all areas where there is constant conflict. Our research shows a direct correlation between higher neonatal mortality rates (deaths out of 1,000 within the first 28 days of life) and war.

Newborn babies need help.

  • 26 million newborns will die if nothing changes between 2019 and 2030
  • In 2019, 47% of all under five deaths were newborns.
  • 7,000 newborns die everyday.
  • Of all child deaths under age 15, 2.5 million occurred within the first month of life
  • 61% of deaths are because of poor quality of care
  • 80% of newborn deaths occur from preventable causes- prematurity, infection, and asphyxia

So how exactly does conflict increase newborn deaths?

War causes trauma. Civilians exposed to conflicts have their lives turned upside down. They fear for their safeties and their families’ safeties. War forces people from their homes where they need to take shelter in a refugee camp. Many leave behind businesses and livelihoods. Many lost loved ones either in bombings, being caught in the crossfire, or directly killed by militias. It is a time of pure survival.

Now, imagine giving birth in the midst of this. Studies show that pregnant women experiencing high levels of psychosocial stress will often have a shorter gestation period. Without the proper time to develop fully, babies are born with health issues. Most commonly, they are born prematurely and with very low weight. Sadly, many pass away within the first moments of life.

A Syrian mother standing with her baby, who is receiving care in a "hospitainer" Saving Moses provided to help combat high neonatal mortality rates in war zones.

This problem alone is bad enough. The indirect effects of conflict create a problem for newborn survival right out the gate. But it gets even worse. Babies born prematurely or with low birth weights will often need medical intervention. The problem now is- conflict destroys healthcare. We studied wars in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq. They all follow a similar pattern. Healthcare facilities and healthcare workers are often targeted or caught in the crossfire. We have seen this in, particularly Syria and the Congo. We don’t understand it. We cannot fathom how someone would destroy something that brings health and healing to those who need it. Sadly, it is often a power move or a political ploy. Conflict also drives out skilled healthcare workers who may be in fear for their lives. The bottom line- babies born in warzones predisposed to needing healthcare will not have healthcare when they need it. So what does this mean? Mothers will often give birth at home away from a skilled birth attendant. Without a midwife, nurse, doctor, or someone trained in safe deliveries- babies are at high risk of not making it in their first 28 days.

We want to see this change!

We are working in these warzones. Saving Moses currently provides innovative solutions to combat high newborn deaths in areas of concentrated conflict. These are innovative approaches that circumvent the obstacles conflict provides. In Syria, we operate our clinics out of shipping containers to provide much-needed birth attendants for mothers at each stage of their pregnancies. In Afghanistan, we educate and then mobilize community leaders with safe birth information. They can take this knowledge to the community level and prevent needless death.

But we are far from done! If you remember the stats at the beginning of this blog, 7,000 babies die every day. Most of them die from preventable causes. This stat lights a fire in us to do something. We plan to expand our BirthAid program to all areas where conflict is causing high neonatal mortality rates. We have our eyes set on countries like Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq. We will fight to help babies, no matter where they are born, have a future.

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