Helping Babies Breathe

Every year, an estimated one million newborns die because they are unable to breathe. A large proportion of these deaths could have been prevented. Those sobering facts from the World Health Organisation are the motivation for the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) course. The premise is simple but powerful: by teaching birth attendants in resource-limited countries, how to perform simple newborn assessment, and resuscitation techniques, much needless death and heartbreak can be avoided.

Mercy Ships partnered with Peace Corps volunteers to bring this life-saving education to ten rural health centres in Madagascar. The programme is born out of the Mercy Ships desire to affect long-lasting development by equipping healthcare providers and communities with vital education.

Ten Peace Corps volunteers participated in a one-day HBB course on the Africa Mercy. It was quite a success, as the volunteers quickly picked up the new skills. Then, armed with materials and manikins, they returned to their respective villages to provide HBB training to the local healthcare workers.

We later sent a follow-up team to visit the ten villages to evaluate the effectiveness of the course and to address any issues. They found tremendously encouraging evidence of change.

One local midwife said, “Giving life to a baby is really incredible.” She had been faced with a baby who was born silent, limp and blue. After soothing the mother by saying, “Have courage. Your baby will be okay,” she used her newfound skills and equipment to save the baby’s life.

One Peace Corps volunteer used the training as a platform for advocacy. It increased her community’s faith in the health centre, and more women were prompted to come to the centre to give birth safely instead of giving birth at home. Another Peace Corps volunteer said, “With a very small investment of time, money and materials, the training will potentially impact 8,000 to 12,000 people in his region.

We cannot wait to hear the continuing stories of lives saved and changed … the stories of babies who have been given the gift of life because of this programme.