“This makes the need for disinfection and maintaining a protocol that ensures a clean, hygienic environment extremely important,” says Sankar. However, according to a WHO/UNICEF report released in 2022, basic soap and water is lacking in half of healthcare facilities around the world, adding to the risk of infections in mothers and newborns.
Other simple measures can help prevent infection in healthcare facilities, such as wearing sterile gowns in intensive care units, wiping and cleaning surfaces and equipment, and disinfecting the newborn’s skin before any injections or IVs are given. But it requires training and adequate staff to implement them, in addition to teaching good hygiene practices to parents, Shahidullah says.
Bangladesh is also striving to encourage more women to give birth in hospitals – which, despite their own superbugs, is the safer option. Nearly half of Bangladeshi women still give birth at home, which puts them at greater risk of contracting infections. In Nepal, neonatal sepsis was found to be higher in babies born to mothers who did not attend prenatal checkups, again highlighting the importance of support for future parents.
Ultimately, tackling the drug resistance crisis will require a wide variety of tools, experts say.
“For a more widespread change, we need to view antimicrobial resistance as a socio-political challenge and not just a medical one,” said Abdul Ghafur, an infectious disease consultant at the Apollo Cancer Institute in the South Indian city of Chennai. Along with other Indian doctors, he is also a vocal campaigner in combating the superbug threat. “Good sanitation at home, in healthcare facilities and in communities is key to managing neonatal sepsis exacerbated 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 advanced medicines,” he says.
Ghafur suggests focusing on developing tests to identify the source of the infection as soon as possible. “A rapid diagnostic test could help doctors find the right antibiotic to prescribe within an hour, which could significantly reduce the risk of death. New antibiotics and vaccines could 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 with private companies.
For families like Mukta’s, who lost her son to sepsis, these advances come too late. But by addressing the antibiotic crisis and infection risk around birth, others can give their babies a safe start — and help doctors protect and rescue those entrusted to their care.
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