Sometimes newborns struggle to breathe. When they do, neonatal resuscitation can make all the difference. But the techniques aren’t common to delivery rooms around the world, and when they aren’t practiced, the results are tragic. Brain damage occurs. Babies die.
The systematic, escalating set of breathing interventions that many doctors use is virtually unknown in Vietnam. Officials estimate that in that country, babies’ inability to breathe causes more than 40 percent of all newborn deaths.
Compared with solving many world health problems, the fix is relatively simple and comparatively inexpensive. Education is the answer.
Last fall, our neonatologist Dan Stewart joined an international academic outreach to save Vietnamese newborns. He traveled to Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon to help establish regional neonatal resuscitation training centers where Vietnamese doctors, nurses and midwives can learn the techniques. The need is great. More than 47,000 babies were born at the obstetrical hospital in Ho Chi Mihn City last year.
Vietnamese doctors, Stewart said, are skilled physicians but they haven’t had the support they need to learn resuscitation techniques. The California-based volunteer organization International Relief Teams and the International Pediatrics section of our Department of Pediatrics sponsored the trip. Stewart and two San Diego nurses took about $10,000 worth of equipment, including translated training materials and high-tech mannequins for use in practicing the actual techniques.
This was not Stewart’s first experience with rebuilding a health care system. He has participated in volunteer medical missions and exchanges since 1991 when our International Pediatrics section launched its efforts to modernize pediatric and neonatal care in Eastern Europe.
Stewart plans to return to Vietnam next year. The trips, he said, provide him with a different way to use his teaching skills and to make a huge difference in the care babies receive.
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