Hands cupping a newborn baby's foot

A study into reducing new born deaths and infections in developing countries has received a €5.9million (£5.2m/$6.7m) boost today to encourage use of a life-saving hygiene gel made from sugar cane.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 12 children will die before their 5th birthday, with infection the most common cause.

The European Developing Countries Trials Partnership announced the grant to prevent newborn infections in Uganda.  The project, led by the University of Liverpool, brings together clinical trialists in the UK, Uganda and Norway.

In poorer parts of rural Africa, there is often very little sanitation in homes. With few flushing toilets or hand washing facilities, infection spreads very easily and leads to high rates of infections in children.

The BabyGel study will test whether the use of sterilising hand gel in the community can prevent infections in newborn babies.

Professor Andrew Weeks, who is leading the project, said:

“Trying to find ways to prevent infection in the home is very difficult. Researchers have put toilets and sinks into many villages, but found that they are rarely used.

“Alcohol-based hand rub however is cheap, highly effective, and can be made locally in Uganda from sugar cane. Women love it for the effect it has on their hands – it has proved to be very popular.

“This large, randomised trial will show whether it also prevents infections in newborns. If it can, then we will be looking to include it in delivery packs for every expectant mother”.

The randomised trial will take place in Mbale District, eastern Uganda over the next five years.

It will be run by the Tropical Clinical Trials Unit of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with the Sanyu Africa Research Institute (SAfRI).

“This is a great example of countries working together to save the lives of babies”, said James Ditai, the Chief Executive of SAfRI. “No mother should lose their newborn to these easily preventable illnesses”.

The University of Bergen will provide postgraduate training through their global health department, whilst doctors from Makerere University, the Ugandan Ministry of Health, Mbale Hospital, the University of Exeter and Busitema University will provide expert input.