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4 models of neonatal resusciation device.

When newborns need help to take their first breath, simple neonatal resuscitators can make a lifesaving difference. Photo: PATH/Jillian Zemanek.

Neonatal resuscitators can reduce newborn deaths

The first breath a baby takes is the most important of her life. Lungs that were filled with fluid take in an initial gulp of air, bringing a startled cry of protest from the infant—and joyful exclamations from the parents.

But what happens when breathing doesn’t come naturally? As many as one in ten newborns need help to take their first breath, and more than a million lose their lives each year because of difficulty in those crucial seconds. Most of these deaths are in developing countries, where health centers and birth attendants often lack the equipment to help babies breathe.

To overcome this challenge, PATH identifies and assesses equipment, such as manually operated neonatal resuscitation devices, that can help health workers save lives. We also work with government leaders, program managers, and others to help put resuscitators in the hands of more health workers worldwide.

A simple lifesaver

Compared to other lifesaving medical equipment, neonatal resuscitation devices are relatively simple: most consist of a mask that covers a baby’s nose and mouth, attached to a bag that pumps air when squeezed. Another simple but necessary tool is a small suction device—little more than a handheld bulb—which allows a health worker to clean an infant’s mouth and nose.

Why are such uncomplicated but important devices so underused? Health workers still encounter roadblocks, including limited access to appropriate options, costs, lack of training, competing priorities, and gaps in supply.

PATH and our partners help to remove these barriers. We seek out new devices, designs, and features that can help resuscitators save even more lives. And when we find promising innovations, we rigorously test them to identify design concerns, gaps, and ways to improve their function, particularly in resource-limited settings.

When appropriate, we also partner with product manufacturers to develop and introduce affordable, innovative new devices. This allows us to combine the expertise of our Seattle-based product development laboratory and our experience with product development and introduction with the knowledge and resources of manufacturers.

Finally, we work closely with international experts, country program managers, policy experts, and others to get devices to more health workers. For example, we’ve created a simple tool to help country leaders and program managers accurately monitor and plan their need for resuscitators and parts, making it easier to purchase and supply the right amount, on time. We’ve also developed a tool to forecast use and supply at the global and national levels, information that can help leaders make smart choices and advocate for continued investment.

PATH is a member of two pioneering international collaborations working to increase neonatal resuscitation. As part of the Helping Babies Breathe Global Development Alliance, we help provide equipment, training, and support to increase the quality and use of resuscitation in low-resource countries. And the United Nations Commission on Lifesaving Commodities connects PATH and other health organizations to bring lifesaving medicines and supplies, including resuscitation equipment, to more women and children.

A million more first breaths

PATH looks for new ways over the barriers that prevent simple, effective devices from saving lives. Our work to identify and refine affordable neonatal resuscitators and put them in the hands of health workers worldwide is a good example. Together, our efforts are putting innovative ideas to work to save a million more first breaths—and lives—worldwide.