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Gates Foundation funds newborn health effort

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Thursday will provide $84 million for low-tech, low-cost efforts to save newborns in developing countries.
/ Source: Reuters

Low-tech, low-cost efforts to save newborns by providing clean equipment, trained attendants and other methods got an $84 million boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Thursday.

The grants will expand distribution of antibiotics, immunizations and clean childbirth kits in 18 developing countries, and will fund study of other cheap and easy ways to save infants.

Four million babies die in the first month of life every year, virtually all of them in developing countries.

In June, a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore published a study showing it would cost $5.1 billion to save 6 million lives a year, many of them newborns.

This represents 6 percent of what Americans spend on tobacco products a year and compares to the $12 billion to $20 billion committed to fighting HIV and AIDS.

“No investment in global health has a greater return than saving the life of a newborn,” said Melinda Gates, wife of the Microsoft founder and a co-founder of the foundation.

“These lives can be saved at a very low cost -- two prenatal doses of tetanus vaccine cost 40 cents, and a clean childbirth kit costs just 25 cents.”

Antibiotics, sterile blades to cut umbilical cords and other inexpensive techniques such as teaching mothers how to hold and warm their babies can prevent many of these deaths, the foundation said in a statement.

“Some global health problems, like AIDS, have no easy solution -- but this isn’t one of them,” Bill Gates said. “The world has an opportunity to stop millions of newborn deaths each year.”

The grants include $60 million to Save the Children, a global nonprofit group, for newborn health projects in 18 developing countries, and $24.3 million to PATH, an international, nonprofit health organization, for its newborn and maternal health projects in India.