New report on newborn mortality

By Julie Griffiths on 20 February 2018 UNICEF Global midwifery Child Mortality Neonatal Death

Unicef has published its latest report on global deaths of newborn babies.

The Every child alive: the urgent need to end newborn deaths report reveals that newborn mortality rates, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, remain high.

According to the figures, babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

In low-income countries the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is three deaths per 1000. 

While the UK’s neonatal mortality rate is towards the lower end of the scale at an estimated 2.6 deaths per 1000, it isn’t in the top 20 countries for low rates.

Figures show that newborns from the riskiest places to give birth are up to 50 times more likely to die than those from the safest places.

The report notes that eight of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during birth due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions. 

It’s also revealed that more than 80% of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis. 

The report suggests that these deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition. 

However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the support needed to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is one per 10,000 in Somalia.

Unicef’s executive director Henrietta Fore said: ‘While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old. 

‘Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.’

This month, Unicef is launching a global campaign ‘Every Child ALIVE’ to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. 

Through the campaign, Unicef is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, healthcare providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every child alive by recruiting, training, retaining and managing sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care.

They are appealing for a clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby. And making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life.