February 20, 2018

80% of newborn deaths 'could be prevented by more access to care'

Mum Joana and baby Vilisi at a maternity ward at the Colonial War memorial hospital in Fiji

Photo credit: UNICEF / Chute

More midwives, nutrition and other care could save many of the 2.6 million babies who die in the first four weeks each year, says a new report.

Almost half of all the children who die before they reach the age of five are newborns. 

In fact, every year one million babies die on the day they are born - and another 1.6 million in the first month of life.

But more than 80% of the deaths could be prevented by having more access to care, according to a report today by UNICEF. 

That includes well-trained midwives and health workers, along with proven solutions such as clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.

In Norway, for example, there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people. In Somalia, the ratio is one per 10,000.

“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," said Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the United Nations children's agency.

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

Not surprisingly, it is in the developing world where there is less access to these vital care services.

A pre-term baby is kept warm in an incubator at the UNICEF-supported Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Assosa General Hospital in the remote Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia

Photo credit: UNICEF / Ayene

Newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds of survival in the first few weeks, said the report Every Child Alive.

Eight of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa. Five of those are in West and Central Africa - with infants there 50 times more likely to die within a month than if they were born in Japan or Iceland.

One in 16 pregnancies in the region results in stillbirth or death within a month. More than 80% of them are deaths caused by complications due to prematurity or during delivery, and infections like sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia.

"Deaths among children aged one month to five years old have fallen dramatically in recent decades," said the report. 

"But progress in reducing the deaths of newborn babies – those aged less than one month – has been less impressive, with 7000 newborns still dying every day."

Theirworld's #5for5 campaign is about ensuring all children have access to five key areas of care - nutrition, health, learning, play and protection - they need to develop and grow up to fulfil their potential.

We have been calling for all countries, donors and international organisations to help make early childhood development a top priority.

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