Chlorhexidine has been around for ages and is often used as an antiseptic, but a number of studies are confirming that this intervention could have a major impact on the high number of newborn deaths in the world and more specifically sub-Saharan Africa.
Child experts from across the world are currently meeting in Johannesburg in an attempt to urgently address the high number of newborn deaths and to ensure that cheap, accessible and effective interventions are implemented in countries where mortality is high.
Of the almost four million annual neonatal (refers to the first four weeks of an infant’s life) deaths that occur globally, more than 99% occur in developing countries and approximately half are attributed to infections.
In communities with high neonatal mortality rates, infections account for approximately half of all newborn death
Infection risk is high because many infants are born at home, where unskilled birth attendants often conduct deliveries. In countries where most women give birth in facilities, such as South Africa, care provided during labor, delivery, and the immediate postnatal period is often unhygienic or includes harmful practices.
A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and conducted in rural Bangladesh, is the latest in a series of studies showing that umbilical cord cleaning with chlorhexidine can save lives.
Researchers enrolled more than 29 000 newborns in a randomized trial to determine the effectiveness of single cleansing with 4 percent chlorhexidine or 7-day cleansing with chlorhexidine as compared to the standard dry cord care.
According to the study, infants that received a single cleansing with chlorhexidine were 20 percent less likely to die compared to infants that received the standard dry cord care. Reductions in mortality were not statistically significant among the 7-day cleansing group compared to dry care, but they did have fewer signs of cord infection.
An early study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers in Nepal, showed cleansing the umbilical cord with chlorhexidine for 7 days of the first 10 days of life resulted in a 24 percent decrease in mortality compared to children who received dry-cord care.
A separate study by researchers from Aga Khan University in Pakistan, found that cord cleansing with chlorhexidine reduced infant mortality 38 percent and infections by 42 percent.
Neonatal deaths account for more than 40 percent of the estimated 8.8 million deaths of children under 5 each year worldwide.