Helping Babies Breathe can save a million lives each year

Jon Klein of the American Academy of Pediatrics talks about an exciting new training tool to help prevent birth asphyxia in the developing world.

HBB materials

This past week, the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) to Latin America. HBB is an educational program that has the capacity to save a million newborn lives each year by preventing birth asphyxia. Asphyxia, the inability to breathe properly, accounts for more deaths each year than AIDS and malaria combined.

Many babies who are not breathing at birth simply need a little bit of help to get started in life. For most, it doesn’t take sophisticated equipment or medications to make that happen. Helping Babies Breathe is a simple, evidence-based training for birth attendants that delivers the skills needed to help. HBB is based on the latest science, and uses low literacy pictorial learning and practical skills development to make a difference, even in environments with severe resource limitations, so that every child can have skilled care at birth.

One of the key elements most commonly used to teach HBB is named NeoNatalie. She is the economical simulator developed by Laerdal Medical for Millennium Development Goal countries. All you do is fill her up with water and she has the weight and feel of a newborn. NeoNatalie is connected to tubes that end in two bulb devices. When the instructor presses one, it simulates air intake and shows chest rise. Pressing the other one simulates circulation with an umbilical pulse you can feel! The addition of simulation technology to HBB really drives the message home.


Last week at the Association of Latin American Pediatric Organizations (ALAPE) meetings in Panama City, I met 48 new HBB Master Trainers from a multitude of countries – Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. After the all-day training workshop, they left with the excitement and passion, and the tools needed, to start up and spread HBB training in their own countries. The AAP and ALAPE are grateful to our HBB Profesores — Drs. Susan Niermeyer from Denver, Enrique Udaeta from Mexico, Oswaldo Revelo from El Salvador and others for helping light this fire in Panama, and are even more excited to look forward to country roll-out trainings throughout Latin America in the coming months.

The ALAPE training, our first in Spanish, is just a few steps behind the HBB roll-out in Africa. Country-wide efforts are underway in Tanzania and Kenya; and master trainers are planning HBB spread for Uganda and Malawi. HBB is supported by a Global Development Alliance (USAID, AAP, Save the Children, NICHD, Laerdal Foundation, and others). The real key to the success of HBB is that these low-cost, low-technology life-saving interventions are country-owned and country-led.

Thanks to ONE for helping spread the word about Helping Babies Breathe, and I hope that many ONE members will take a minute to learn more about how this simple program can help save many children’s lives.

-Jon Klein, MD, MPH, associate executive director at the American Academy of Pediatrics and Helping Babies Breathe master trainer