Two Nurses on the Frontlines of Saving Newborn Lives Honored Today with First International Neonatal Nursing Excellence Award

10,000 newborns die worldwide every day

Oct 24, 2010, 12:42 ET from Save the Children

DURBAN, South Africa, Oct. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Two nurses will be honored today with the first International Neonatal Nursing Excellence Award. This award recognizes the commitment of nurses working on the frontlines of newborn care in resource-challenged countries, where the majority of newborn deaths occur.  Regina Obeng from Kumasi in Ghana and Rekha Kashinath Samant from Mumbai, India, were selected from nominations sent from all over the world. They will receive their awards during the opening ceremony of 7th International Conference of the Neonatal Nurses at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa. The award is organized by the International Conference of Neonatal Nurses (ICNN) in conjunction with Save the Children, the Council of Neonatal Nurses (COINN) and the Neonatal Nurses Association of Southern Africa (NNASA).

"Regina and Rekha were selected over many outstanding candidates for their unwavering leadership and passion for ensuring every newborn has a chance to survive and thrive," said NNASA President Ruth Davidge.  "Both work in newborn care units in very busy teaching hospitals in urban areas. Even in these facilities, we cannot take good care for granted; it has to be developed and defended by committed professionals."

Each year 3.6 million newborns die worldwide - 10,000 every day.  Three out of every four newborn deaths occur in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a critical shortage of skilled health workers – both nurses and doctors. Most of these newborn deaths are preventable and saving lives depends critically on the skills and commitment of those looking after sick newborn babies.

"Many of the millions of newborn deaths that occur in Africa and South Asia could be prevented with greater numbers of skilled health professionals," said Dr Joy Lawn, director of Global Evidence and Policy for Saving Newborn Lives at Save the Children. "Nurses like Regina and Rekha illustrate that it is possible to totally rewrite the statistics on newborn deaths with greater investments in neonatal training and basic equipment."

In India, more than one million babies die in their first month of life. Rekha Samant is a senior staff nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King Edward Medical Hospital and Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College in the megacity of Mumbai. With 15 years experience as a senior staff nurse she is also one of a rare breed of nurses: she has a one-year diploma in neonatal nursing, which she obtained at SNDT University in Mumbai. Samant is a national trainer in Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) and the KMC Unit at her hospital is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence.

"Rekha is an intelligent, sincere, passionate and extremely dependable nurse who has excellent acumen in the management of newborn babies," said a colleague, who nominated her for the award. "She deserves the lion's share of the credit for successfully addressing the needs of newborns in the hospital's neonatal unit."

In Ghana, 30 out of every 1000 newborns won't live past their first month of life. Regina Obeng is the principal nursing officer and manager of the Neonatal Unit at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Ghana's second biggest city, Kumasi. With 22 years experience in the field, she is a neonatal nursing expert and has been the driving force behind her hospital's introduction of Kangaroo Mother Care, promotion of exclusive breastfeeding and increased infection control. She has never had the opportunity to have an official neonatal nurse qualification and yet has chosen to dedicate her life to Ghana's newborns.

Regina Obeng had several nominations for the award. One nomination said, "She is not at all afraid of confronting doctors on the ward who she feels are cutting corners in the care of a sick newborn. She cries when a preventable death occurs in our neonatal unit due to a mother lack of knowledge or lack of expertise in our part of the world."

Despite the fact that nurses provide the majority of care to sick newborns in health facilities, there are very few nurses like Rekha Samant and Regina Obeng who dedicate themselves to newborn care, which is a major challenge for neonatal units worldwide. There is an acute shortage of neonatal nurses internationally and particular in resource-limited countries where there is a desperate need for accredited training in advanced neonatal nursing practice.

This award was also created to highlight the fact that skilled nursing care is critical to the reduction of the global neonatal death toll of 3.6 million newborns a year. Meeting the global Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 for child survival will be increasingly determined by how well countries can reduce newborn deaths, as now more than 40 percent of under-five deaths globally occur in the first month of life.

The Council of International Neonatal Nurses (COINN) was established following the 5th International Neonatal Nurses Conference in Ottawa, Canada, in 2004. The conferences are held every three years. COINN's membership consists of national neonatal nursing associations including South Africa and Kenya. They also have 40 affiliate members/contacts – many in developing countries e.g. Russia, Liberia, Pakistan etc. More information available at

The Neonatal Nursing Association of Southern Africa (NNASA) was formed in February 2007. Their board consists of six passionate neonatal nurses who have a vision to encourage and support neonatal nurses in southern Africa. More information available at

Save the Children ( is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Saving Newborn Lives is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and aims to reduce newborn deaths and improve newborn survival in high-mortality countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

SOURCE Save the Children