PROVO — Globally nearly 530,000 women die every year in childbirth, more than 3 million babies are stillborn and more than 4 million babies die within a few days or weeks of birth. Most are preventable tragedies.

Brigham Young University held its first Mother, Newborn and Child Health Conference Friday to discuss solutions. The conference, which included several speakers and nine panels, discussed health problems that can be prevented and reduced by helping families.

Techniques suggested ranged from educating mothers and families about proper hygiene and basic care to working to provide skilled workers to deliver babies throughout the world.

Gina Tambini, the area manager of family and community health for the Pan American Health Organization, said a push is needed to empower women and families and to educate them. She said one woman in Peru asked after her young son died why no one had told her it was important to wash her hands to avoid disease.

Simple solutions and education can help reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, she said. Breast-feeding infants until the age of 1 can reduce the risk of death by 13 percent and also helps prevent diarrhea and pneumonia. In some areas of the world, women also need to be taught how to keep their infants warm and clean and to maintain good hygiene, she said.

Tambini also stressed the importance of partnership with nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations and governments.

"We see there is a strong partnership there with universities represented," she said. "We talk and we know that cause-effective interventions are available to avoid deaths in mothers, newborns and children."

Christopher Drasbek, regional integrated management of childhood illness adviser and child and adolescent health, family and community health adviser for PAHO, said that basic programs directed toward family intervention reduce death rates.

PAHO conducted a study between 2002 and 2005 in Chao, Peru, to determine how educating families changes behavior, Drasbek said. The study showed that 95 percent of mothers knew they should breast-feed their infants exclusively for the first six months of life, compared to 34 percent before the study; and 90 percent of mothers kept up on vaccinations compared to 58 percent. After being educated about what caused diseases, townspeople cleaned up standing water, and cases of malaria dropped almost 99 percent, he said.

Drasbek also stressed the need for partnerships, especially with religious organizations.

"Forty percent of health care is delivered by religious organizations globally," he said.

Padmini Murthy, assistant professor in the department of behavioral science and community health at the New York Medical College, School of Public Health, said the world still has extreme problems with women's rights that extend to health care.

Violence against women, including neglect and deprivation, causes major problems with good health and raises maternal and infant mortality rates. In some parts of the world, families don't allow women to see a doctor.

"Violence against women is violence against children," she said.

Problems aren't limited to Haiti or Bolivia. Murthy said there are areas in Harlem, N.Y., that have maternal and infant mortality rates similar to those of Bangladesh.

In a panel session with Tambini, Drasbek and Murthy, students and health-care professionals asked what they could do to help.

"Think globally and act locally," Tambini said. "Work with the church and work with your community."

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