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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Umbilical Cord Antiseptic Not Effective in Reducing Infant Deaths in Africa

Despite significant reductions in neonatal mortality previously reported in south Asia, applying a chlorhexidine wash to newborns’ umbilical cords in sub-Saharan Africa did not reduce deaths, a study led by researchers from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) shows.

The study, in The Lancet Global Health, calls into question recent efforts to scale up the use of antiseptic chlorhexidine cord washes globally, as a strategy to reduce neonatal sepsis and mortality.

“Although chlorhexidine is potentially beneficial in places with a high neonatal mortality rate and home-based delivery environments in south Asia, the treatment had no effect on neonatal mortality in Zambia, an environment with a lower neonatal mortality rate (and) more facility-based deliveries,” the study says.

The results of the two-year study of more than 37,800 live births in Southern Province, Zambia, come as researchers worldwide have been trying to find ways to reduce neonatal mortality, defined as death within the first 28 days of life. Globally, 3 million newborns die each year, with infection responsible for approximately 13 percent of these deaths. Poor hygiene and antisepsis at birth and in the first week of life increases the risk of deadly but preventable infections.

“Rolling out chlorhexidine to all low-income and middle-income settings risks the misuse of resources – time, money, political capital, and most importantly, patient trust,” said senior study author Dr. David Hamer, a professor of global health at BUSPH.

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