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How to save 3 million babies from dying

Each year, 5.5 million newborns die before birth or within the first 28 days of life. It's like losing the entire population of Finland each year.

health and fitness Updated: Jun 30, 2014 17:24 IST
Sanchita Sharma
newborn deaths

Each year, 5.5 million newborns die before birth or within the first 28 days of life. It's like losing the entire population of Finland each year.

Three million of these lives can be saved without intensive care, mainly though quality care around birth and treating small and sick newborns, showed data presented at Partners’ Forum in Johannesburg, where a range of organisations within government, the private sector, philanthropy, civil society, professional associations and academia have gathered to work toward ending preventable maternal and child deaths within a generation.

While maternal and child mortality rates have improved dramatically over the last two decades, 2.9 million newborns (first four weeks) die and there are an additional 2.6 million stillbirths (last three months of pregnancy). Newborn deaths account for 44% of all under-5 deaths worldwide.

Half of all newborn deaths occur in five countries. India, with 26 million live births and 7.79 lakh (7,79,000) newborn deaths, tops the list, followed by Nigeria (2,76,000), Pakistan (2,02,400), China (1,57,000), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1,18,000).

The Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) gives two specific targets for all countries to achieve by 2035: Reduce neonatal mortality rates to 10 or fewer newborn deaths per 1,000 live births; and lower stillbirth rates to 10 or fewer stillbirths/1,000 total births. ENAP also lays out an interim goal, reducing to 12 or fewer newborn deaths and stillbirths by 2030.

The day of birth is the time of greatest risk of death and disability for babies and their mothers— contributing to around half of the world’s 289,000 maternal deaths.

Most newborn deaths result from three preventable and treatable conditions: prematurity, complications around birth and severe infections.

More than 71% of newborn deaths could be avoided without intensive care, mainly though quality care around birth and care of small and sick newborns.

An additional investment of only US $1.15 (Rs 70) per person per year in 75 high burden countries would prevent 3 million deaths of women and babies.

This care requires skilled health workers, especially midwives, and essential commodities, such as steroid injections costing less than a dollar per treatment, or resuscitation devices costing under US $5 (for bag and mask resuscitator).

“This plan demonstrates that together we can achieve the vision of a world in which there are no preventable deaths of newborns or stillbirths, where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth celebrated, and women, babies and children survive, thrive and reach their full potential," said Graça Machel, co-chair of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health.

Critical attention is especially needed for the 29 slowest progressing countries—most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, it will be more than 110 years before an African baby has the same chances of survival as a baby born in North America or Europe.

Progress in Africa has been three times slower than what has been achieved in high-income countries, even before use of intensive care or the new simpler interventions, such as Kangaroo Mother Care or steroid injections for preterm labour.

New financial, policy and private sector commitments to save newborn lives from 40 partners -- is also being announced at 2014 Partners’ Forum.

“While more children are living past their fifth birthday than ever before, now we need deliberate, focused attention for newborns, who have been voiceless and uncounted for too long. It is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do," said Dr Mickey Chopra, Chief of Health, UNICEF, and Co-Chair of the Countdown to 2015.

Unsafe world for newborns
5.5 million babies die each year globally, which is like losing the entire population of Finland each year.

2.9 million newborns die within 28 days of birth and 2.6 million are stillborn each year.

3 million of these lives can be saved without intensive care, mainly though quality care around birth and treating small and sick newborns.

Half of all newborn deaths occur in five countries. India, with 26 million live births and 7.79 lakh (7,79,000) newborn deaths, tops the list, followed by Nigeria (2,76,000), Pakistan (2,02,400), China (1,57,000), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1,18,000).

Critical attention is especially needed for the 29 slowest progressing countries—most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, it will be more than 110 years before a baby born in Africa has the same chances of survival as a baby born in North America or Europe.

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