Neonatal sepsis: the new threat from superbugs
“This makes the need for disinfection and maintaining a protocol that ensures a clean and hygienic environment extremely important,” Sankar says. However, basic soap and water are lacking in half of health facilities across the world, according to a WHO/UNICEF report released in 2022, contributing to the risk of infections in mothers and newborns.
Other simple measures can help prevent infection in healthcare settings, such as wearing sterile gowns in intensive care units, swabbing and cleaning surfaces and equipment, and disinfecting newborn’s skin before giving injections or drops. But it requires training and adequate staff to implement them, as well as teaching good hygiene practices to parents, says Shahidullah.
Bangladesh is also aiming to encourage more women to give birth in hospitals – which, despite their own struggles with superbugs, tends to be the safest option. Almost half of Bangladeshi women still give birth at home, which is accompanied by a higher risk of contracting infections. In Nepal, neonatal sepsis was found to be higher in babies born to mothers who did not attend prenatal visitsstressing again the importance of support for future parents.
Ultimately, tackling the drug resistance crisis will require a wide range of tools, experts say.
“For more widespread change, we need to see antimicrobial resistance as a socio-political challenge and not just a medical one,” says Abdul Ghafur, an infectious disease consultant at the Apollo Cancer Institute in the southern city of Chennai. India. Along with other Indian doctors, he is also a vocal activist on combating the threat of superbugs. “Adequate sanitation at home, in health facilities and in communities is essential to deal with neonatal sepsis aggravated by [antimicrobial resistance] and to prevent reinfection in children.”
Finding new antibiotics should be considered an immediate priority: “Covid has shown us that India can be the pharmacy of the world, and develop cutting-edge drugs,” he says.
Ghafur suggests focusing on developing tests to identify the source of infection as quickly as possible. “A rapid diagnostic test could help doctors focus on the right antibiotic to prescribe within an hour, which could significantly reduce the risk of death. New antibiotics and vaccines can be developed for bacteria that are now resistant to existing antibiotics,” he says. According to him, this should be a global effort, with governments working in collaboration with private companies.
For families like Mukta’s, who lost her son to sepsis, this progress comes too late. But tackling the antibiotic crisis and the risk of infection around birth could help others get their babies off to a good start — and help doctors protect and save those in their care.
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