New ‘miracle gel’ helps prevent infection in newborns

New ‘miracle gel’ helps prevent infection in newborns

A new gel is introduced to Nepal.

In Nepal, a new “miracle gel” is saving babies from umbilical cord infections, one of the leading causes of infant mortality in the country.

Women often lack access to safe medical care in Nepal, and traditional remedies often cause more harm than good. According to the latest Demographic and Health Survey, 41 percent of babies had materials such as mustard oil, turmeric and ash applied to the umbilical cord. Combined with more than two-thirds of deliveries made at home in poor conditions, the neonatal mortality rates shoot to 33 deaths per 1,000 live births. With these statistics in mind, the Nepalese government has agreed to pilot a program to expand the use of an antiseptic umbilical gel to combat infection.

Chlorhexidine (CHX), also known as Navi Malam, is an antiseptic that reduces the amount of bacteria on the skin and on the umbilical stump of newborns. It is made by local firm Lomus Pharmaceuticals, and has received backing from the Nepalese government, the USAID, and other donors.

CHX gel was introduced to hospitals across Nepal in 2011, and according to USAID, trials show a 23 percent drop in infant deaths since it was introduced. Today that percentage has leapt to 34 percent, and is still growing. When the program is fully scaled up through the public health system, Lomus estimates that Nepal would require about 800,000 tubes of gel annually. Currently, the company produces around 20,000 tubes a day, at a low cost of 18 rupees apiece (approximately $0.18), allowing Nepalese families to purchase them. USAID is working on implementing the gel in Liberia, Nigeria and Madagascar’s national health programs, the program noted in a statement posted on its website.

“The United States will work to bring the chlorhexidine to the world,” said Rajiv Shah, the head of USAID.

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