October 1, 2013 |

An inexpensive, lifesaving antiseptic for newborn cord care

Newborn baby wrapped in African cloth.
It’s estimated that more than 300 thousand newborn lives could be saved each year by applying a drug called chlorhexidine on the umbilical cords of newborns. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

Chlorhexidine is a dependable antiseptic that’s been around since the 1950s. It’s inexpensive, effective, safe, and common in drugstores and hospitals across the United States and Europe. In poor countries, a new formulation can be a powerful solution to an unacceptable tragedy: the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of newborns every year from infection.

This new formulation of the antiseptic, called chlorhexidine digluconate 7.1%, was developed specifically to be applied to infants’ umbilical cords right after they’re cut, reducing opportunities for infection.

In this new video, PATH’s Trish Coffey explains how for less than 50 cents a dose, this product could save an estimated 422,000 newborns over the next five years.

Our President and CEO Steve Davis recently wrote about chlorhexidine’s potential on the Skoll World Forum website, calling these kinds of game-changing solutions “overlooked lifesavers.”

“Regulatory hurdles, supply issues, misconceptions about guidelines for umbilical cord care, and a nascent market for the new product formulation all contribute to the product’s limited availability and adoption in developing countries,” Steve wrote. “Dismantling these barriers requires patient and persistent work.”

Not flashy, but necessary

It’s the kind of work PATH has long been dedicated to pursuing, even though, as Steve says, “It’s fair to say that market development, supply chain improvements, health system strengthening, and demand generation may never be hailed as global health’s ‘next big thing.’”

“Yet,” he continues, “it is every bit as critical to the goal of saving the lives of women and children. We must cut through the bottlenecks to take innovation to scale, paving the way for the most promising ideas to reach the most vulnerable and disrupt the status quo of poor health and poverty.”

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