The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one million babies die each year from birth asphyxia (eg. inability to breathe immediately after delivery).  A few years ago a group of pediatricians affiliated with the American Academy of Pediatrics developed a neonatal resuscitation program that was evidence-based, easy to teach and easy to use in resource limited areas.  So they began to dream big and envision a world where no baby would die due to its inability to breathe at birth.

But big dreams need big partnerships. Enter into discussion with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Laerdal Medical Company of Norway (one of the largest providers of CPR equipment and simulators in the world),  the U.S. Agency for International Development’s  (USAID)  Newborn and Maternal Health program, Save the Children , the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) and USAID’s Global Development Alliance program. With lots of outreach and dialogue,  a public-private-NGO sector alliance with these groups as its charter members was born.  The glue binding these groups together? A commitment to move forward Millennium Development Goal #4 (MDG4) : reduction of child mortality by two thirds from 1990 to 2015.

Last week in Washington D.C. over 150 policy makers and health care educators and trainers from 10 countries came together to launch Helping Babies Breathe. Also on the agenda was training new regional and local level master trainers in the program’s skills for birth attendants, and discuss country implementation plans and scale-up.

“Birthing” this new program was a bit like birthing a new baby:  lots of advance preparation, intensity and labor at the moments of birth, moments of pure joy, and then continued nurturing.   What are some of the things we’ve learned so far?  Effective partnerships require among other things:  (1) A clearly articulated common purpose; (2) Clarifying the roles and expectations for each partner; (3) Being willing to compromise and cede some control, allowing different partners to take the ‘lead’ at different times.  None of these are easy to do, especially with strong partners who are all used to leading.

There is much work ahead and challenges to come as this baby grows and continues to be nurtured. What do we think are some of the factors that will help this project to be an effective scale-up model? (1) A simple to teach and use educational curriculum that has a small number of core concepts with a lot of latitude for local and situational customization; (2) A partnership that has set the tone of a culture of learning as we go, sharing of ‘lessons learned’ and reflections on this learning.  [This was started from the very beginning with several pilot projects in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Pakistan and Tanzania whose initial results were shared during last week’s kick-off.  The learning from these initial pilots will be incorporated into curriculum, training and process recommendations as the program expands to a projected 15-20 countries in the coming year to 18 months]; (3) A wide range of partners with a broad range of contacts and distribution networks.

So as this really big dream takes steps to reality and we learn about partnerships, scale-up and other areas as we go, I look forward to sharing some of these ‘lessons learned’ in this blog, and broadening the dialogue.