[UPDATED OCTOBER 2015] Chlorhexidine, a low-cost antiseptic, prevents deadly infections that enter an infant’s body through a newly cut umbilical cord. Few other interventions have as much promise to rapidly reduce newborn deaths at an affordable price—less than $1 per dose. Chlorhexidine has no toxicity risks and virtually no potential for misuse. It has a long shelf life, requires no cold chain, and is extremely easy to apply with minimal training and no equipment.
These factors make it suitable for hospital, health center, and home care alike. Few other interventions have demonstrated such potential for rapidly reducing newborn mortality across so many settings for such a low cost.
In July 2013, the World Health Organization included 7.1% chlorhexidine digluconate (delivering 4% chlorhexidine) for umbilical cord care on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines for Children. In October 2013, WHO issued new guidelines for umbilical cord care that recommend daily application of 7.1% chlorhexidine digluconate to the umbilical cord stump for the first week of life in areas with high neonatal mortality.
Millions of mothers and health providers around the world continue to have a strong desire to apply something to the umbilical cord stump, and putting nothing on the cord stump is simply unacceptable in some cultures or communities. In the absence of a specifically recommended product, they use a variety of traditional and non-traditional substances, including breast milk, cooking and motor oil, dried cow dung, ash, alcohol, traditional herbs, salty water, mustard seed oil, turmeric, antibacterial ointments, and numerous other preparations.
In this installment of “Trending Topics” the Health COMpass presents several communication tools and project examples designed to promote and explain the use of chlorhexidine to reduce newborn mortality.
For further reading about chlorhexidine:
Topical Umbilical Cord Care at Birth [Reproductive Health Library]
Country Guidance for Umbilical Cord Care [WHO, 2014]
Ending Newborn Deaths [Save the Children, 2014]
Above photo: © 2013 Fletcher Gong’a, Courtesy of Photoshare