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 ... Read More»
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.
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.
Why is the infant mortality rate so high in Afghanistan?
Note to the reader: Names and images have been changed to protect identities.
According to the CIA website, Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. In fact, 110.6 out of every 1,000 babies born in Afghanistan do not live to see their first birthday. Compare that to the US, where the number drops to 5.8 out of every 1,000. Get out of the big cities into rural Afghanistan, and the infant mortality rate goes up. Where we currently have clinics, 40% of babies born will not live to see their first birthday.
These statistics are staggering. Why is there such disparity?
There are several factors at play, so we don’t want to oversimplify this. But through our years working with the beautiful people of Afghanistan, it has become clear that most infant deaths in the country with the highest infant mortality rate are preventable. Here are three of the top reasons why the infant mortality rate is so high there, and what you can do to help:
Naseema is 24 years old. She has given birth seven times, but only has four living children. She has experienced the greatest loss of a child three times because of diseases such as diarrhea and dehydration, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections—all diseases that are treatable except that Naseema has not had access to a health clinic or medication for herself or her children for years.
When the Saving Moses clinic was founded in Naseema’s province, it was only a half-hour walk from her home. She brings all four of her babies to be vaccinated and cared for when sick. Because of access to healthcare, Naseema’s four babies have a chance to survive.
Much of the inhabited land of Afghanistan is rural and recovering from years of conflict. Communities are spread out with most people traveling by foot from place to place. As a result, people who live far from hospitals and clinics don’t get access to any form of healthcare, especially pregnant women and babies who cannot make the trip.
Hamad is a father, but he doesn’t know the love of a child. Hamad has had to bury all three of his babies because they were born not breathing. By the time Hamad reached a Saving Moses clinic, he was having a nervous breakdown from the grief. In America, if a baby is not breathing when they are born, the doctor or nurse gives them a hard slap on the back to clear mucus out of their airways. Most of the time, this works and the baby lives. No one in Hamad’s family knew.
Partly due to socioeconomic issues and partly due to culture, there is a significant lack of health education in Afghanistan, especially among women. When a woman has complications in her pregnancy or if a baby is sick, families are simply left guessing.
Haleema is a baby girl in rural Afghanistan and she is sick—very sick. Her parents brought her to Saving Moses worried because her stomach has rashes, she can’t keep food down, and her fever is very high. After looking at her, doctors immediately figured out the problem: an infection. When Haleema was born, per tradition, her father cut the umbilical cord with an old boot and packed it with mud from the wall of the family home. Once doctors were able to clean the cord out, Haleema started to show signs of recovery.
Communities in Afghanistan have rooted cultural traditions that trace back hundreds of years. Many women still see themselves as the sole caretaker in the home and will stay awake late into the night, cleaning, cooking, and caring for her household, even when pregnant. While culture is often beautiful and distinguishing, sometimes the old-world ideology contributes to poor health practices. This is where modern medicine and training community leaders helps save lives.
What You Can Do
Our hearts are broken by the maternal and infant mortality rates in Afghanistan. This is why we work in three rural clinics throughout Afghanistan to train midwives, fund postnatal vaccinations, and teach birth life-saving skills in communities. We would love to invite you to join in our journey to save babies every day by meeting the most urgent and intense survival needs where help is least available.
You can become a hero or donate to Afghanistan here.
Why is the infant mortality rate so high in Afghanistan? Note to the reader: Names and images have been changed to protect identities. According to the CIA website, Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. In fact, 110.6 out of every 1,000 babies born in Afghanistan do not live to see their first... Read More»