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The Two Best Ways to Reduce Infant Mortality

Preventing early childhood death is one of the main objectives of the global-health community. But while huge investments in health-care infrastructure will no doubt be needed to achieve this goal, the highest returns will most likely come from encouraging maternal immunization and breastfeeding.

BANGKOK – One of the more ambitious targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the commitment to end preventable deaths of newborns and children over the next decade. If this target is met, by 2030 no country will have a neonatal mortality rate above 12 deaths per 1,000 births – a quarter of the current rate in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Given the magnitude of the challenge, huge investments will be needed in health-care infrastructure and planning. Perhaps the most effective way to reduce infant mortality would be to encourage uptake of two readily available resources: maternal vaccinations and breast milk.

Protecting children from early deaths begins before they are born. When a woman is vaccinated against common illnesses like influenza, her body creates antibodies that recognize viruses and boost natural defenses against pathogens. When she becomes pregnant, these protective proteins are transferred to her baby across the placenta.