Poor cord care practices and unnecessary caesarean-sections increase mothers' and a newborn's chances of getting sepsis, according to WHO.
Sepsis refers to the presence of harmful bacteria and their toxins in tissues, typically through infection to a wound.
Some of its symptoms are patches of discolored skin, decreased urination, chills due to a fall in body temperature and a low platelet count.
Data from World Health Organization shows more than a million new-born babies and at least 100,000 mothers die annually from this life-threatening disease which is not well known.
“The tragedy is that most of these deaths could have been prevented,” WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
The director general warned overcrowded hospitals pose a greater risk of infection for women.
He added health workers are also often unaware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and are therefore unable to recognise the condition and treat it in time.
In some parts of Kenya, mothers apply soil and lizard faeces to freshly cut cords, a practice that amounts to poor care.
Ghebreyesus has called on countries to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths as a result of sepsis.
Access to clean water and sanitation, quality care during pregnancy and birth, responsible and timely access to the right medicine and good cord care practices are some of the ways sepsis infections can be prevented.
HOPE AFTER GLAXOSMITHKLINE DISCOVERY
A scientist from GlaxoSmithKline UK became the face of a life-changing medical product after she discovered a component that can be used to prevent neonatal sepsis.
Researcher Pauline Williams, who is the head of GSK’s research and development for maternal and neonatal health, identified chlorhexidine as an overlooked “life-saving commodity”.
She said it has the potential to save 422,000 lives over five years if made more available across poor parts of Africa and Asia.
The company manufactured an antiseptic gel used to prevent umbilical cord infections in newborn babies during the first 28 days of life.
It was developed from a mouthwash product known as Corsodyl, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
Chlorhexidine, for umbilical cord care, has a concentration of 7.1 per cent chlorhexidine digluconate, which delivers four per cent chlorhexidine.
It is specifically formulated for umbilical cord care and is safe and effective in reducing neonatal sepsis due to bacterial exposure through the fresh umbilical cord stump.
Ghebreyesus added they are working with the Global Sepsis Alliance to conduct a study in 500 hospitals in 54 countries where the rate of sepsis infections is very high.
“We hope the results of this study will improve our understanding of maternal and neonatal sepsis, how it can be prevented and treated around the world,” Ghebreyesus said.