The Neonatal Resuscitation Program: How a Partnership Between the U.S. and China Saved Thousands of Babies

Oct 5, 2016 9:00 AM ET

Originally posted on J&

It was an historic initiative: train healthcare workers across China in neonatal resuscitation—from big cities to remote villages. Ten years later, over 150,000 newborns are alive because of it. We go behind the scenes to explore the secrets of the program’s success.

By Justin Bergman

For an expectant mother, one of the most frightening things that can happen during labor is to give birth—and then hear nothing. No tiny being whimper, no I’ve-entered-the-world wail.

For Jia Qiuwan, it happened not once, but twice.

When Jia gave birth to her first son, Binyang, nearly 10 years ago, he wasn’t able to breathe on his own. There was no cry. But even if there were, she wouldn’t have been able to hear it. As doctors rushed to successfully resuscitate her baby, the new mom slipped into a coma and didn’t come to for a half hour.

When Jia was admitted to the same hospital—the Hongsibao Maternity & Child Health Hospital, in the Ningxia region of western China—to give birth to her second son in late 2014, she was hoping for a much easier delivery.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

“The doctors said my baby was asphyxiated,” Jia recalls. “I didn’t hear him crying.”

This time, she was conscious—and instantly worried. But thanks to her experience giving birth to Binyang at the same hospital, she trusted the medical staff. “I knew this hospital was really good at saving babies,” she says.

After what seemed like an eternity, she finally heard the sound she’d been waiting for: the wail of her newborn son, Ruiyang.

A Unique Global Partnership to Help Solve a National Crisis

Each year, one in 10 babies around the world—that’s about 10 million newborns—suffers from birth asphyxia, or the inability to take that first life-sustaining breath on their own. If a baby can’t be resuscitated within that crucial first minute post-birth, and an adequate amount of oxygen doesn’t make it to the brain and other organs, it can lead to cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, organ failure and even death.

The problem is especially pronounced in developing countries. Just a decade ago in China, the chances of Ruiyang and Binyang surviving birth asphyxia were much slimmer. In the early 2000s, asphyxia accounted for about 20% of all newborn deaths in the country. That’s an astounding 73,000 babies.

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