£5m study launched to help prevent newborn infections in Uganda

A team of international researchers, led by the University of Liverpool, have been awarded over £5m for a study to help prevent newborn infections in Uganda.

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. 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 has announced a €5.9 million grant for ‘The BabyGel study’ to prevent newborn infections in Uganda. The project brings together clinical trialists in the UK, Uganda and Norway.

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

Professor Andrew Weeks, Consultant Obstetrician at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Chief Investigator for the study, 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 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). 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.

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

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