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5.5 million newborns die every year, WHO to increase focus on poor populations

Each year, 5.5 million newborns die before birth or within the first 28 days of life. Upto 3 million of these deaths can be prevented through quality care around birth and during sickness, WHO experts say.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2016 00:32 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Health officials administer polio vaccine to newborn babies at a government hospital in Agartala. Experts says basic quality care and treatment can help save upto three million babies without intensive care.
Health officials administer polio vaccine to newborn babies at a government hospital in Agartala. Experts says basic quality care and treatment can help save upto three million babies without intensive care. (PTI File Photo)

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.

Most newborn deaths result from three preventable and treatable causes — prematurity, complications around birth and severe infections. Three million babies can be saved without intensive care, mainly though quality care around birth and treating small and sick newborns, say experts in Colombo to attend World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee meeting from September 5-9.

Maternal and newborn deaths, emergency response to outbreaks like Zika virus, and neglected tropical diseases like kala-azar and leprosy that affect the poorest populations in most countries will take centre stage at the regional committee meeting, which will be attended by health ministers from 11 nations in the region, including India’s health and family welfare minister, JP Nadda.

Read | Lack of vital equipment caused child’s death at Indore hospital

Read | The death of a baby in UP shows the crisis in India’s primary healthcare system

“The target is to stop preventable deaths by launching a rapid and effective response to emergencies and neglected and chronic conditions,” said Dr Mohamed Jamsheed, regional advisor, neglected tropical diseases, WHO South East Asia office (SEARO).

“There are evidence-based interventions — increasing deliveries in hospitals and clinics, trained health workers, immediate drying and delayed cord clamp, and skin-to-skin contact between the mother and baby — that can prevent mother and new born deaths, but the challenge is the delivery of these interventions. Taking good quality care to pregnant women, for example, can save 40% maternal deaths,” says Dr Neena Raina, coordinator, maternal, newborn and adolescent health, WHO SEARO.

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, 2 million in their first day of life.
  • 3.3 million babies are stillborn each year.
  • 3 million babies of the can be saved with low tech, low cost care, like skin-to-skin contact with the mother.

The Death List

Half of all newborn deaths occur in five countries. India, which has 26 million live births, tops the list.
  • 7.79 lakh deaths : India.
  • 2.76 lakh deaths : Nigeria.
  • 2.02 lakh deaths : Pakistan.
  • 1.57 lakh deaths : China.
  • 1.18 lakh deaths : Democratic Republic of Congo.
Source: WHO, Unicef

While maternal and child mortality rates have improved dramatically over the last two decades, 2.9 million newborns die within the first four weeks of birth. Another 3.3 million are stillbirths, defined as dying in the womb in the three months of pregnancy.

Newborn deaths account for 44% of all under-five-years-old deaths worldwide, with a baby’s risk of death in the first four weeks of life being nearly 15 times greater than any other time of his or her life.

Half of all newborn deaths occur in five countries. India, with 26 million live births and 7.79 lakh newborn deaths, tops the list, followed by Nigeria, Pakistan, China, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There is some progress, with fewer mothers dying at childbirth today than every before.

“In 1990, there were 2,10,000 maternal deaths, in 2015, there were 61,000. The south-east Asia region has registered a 69% decline in maternal death rates, which is well above the world’s average decline of 44%,” said Dr Raina.

Read more | India failing: 1.2 million children died of preventable diseases in 2015

Read more | WHO report questions qualification of ‘doctors’ in India