World is failing newborn babies, says UNICEF

Babies from the best places to be born up to 50 times less likely to die in the first month of life

NEW YORK, ADDIS ABABA, 20 February 2018 – Global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF said today in a new report on newborn mortality. 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.

“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 H. Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is 3 deaths per 1,000. 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 also notes that 8 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 delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions. If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

Unequal shots at life[1]

Highest newborn mortality rates Lowest newborn mortality rates
1. Pakistan: 1 in 22 1. Japan: 1 in 1,111
2. Central African Republic: 1 in 24 2. Iceland: 1 in 1,000
3. Afghanistan: 1 in 25 3. Singapore: 1 in 909
4. Somalia: 1 in 26 4. Finland: 1 in 833
5. Lesotho: 1 in 26 5. Estonia: 1 in 769
6. Guinea-Bissau: 1 in 26 5. Slovenia: 1 in 769
7. South Sudan: 1 in 26 7. Cyprus: 1 in 714
8. Côte d’Ivoire: 1 in 27 8. Belarus: 1 in 667
9. Mali: 1 in 28 8. Luxembourg: 1 in 667
10. Chad: 1 in 28 8. Norway: 1 in 667
  8. Republic of Korea: 1 in 667

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says. 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 life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is 1 per 10,000 in Somalia.

This month, UNICEF is launching Every Child ALIVE, a global campaign to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care 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;
  • Guaranteeing clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
  • Making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
  • Empowering adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.

“Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world do not survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born,” said Ms. Fore. “We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.”

About Ethiopia

 Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa with a total population of 94 million, out of which 13 million are under five years of age. Despite making overall progress in child survival, deaths among newborn babies still remain high. At 29 deaths per 1,000 live births, newborn mortality accounts for 44 per cent of all under five deaths. The new UNICEF report indicates that in 2016 alone, 90,000 newborn babies died in Ethiopia, ranking the country among 10 high burden countries globally.

Recognizing the need to accelerate newborn survival, the Government has put newborn survival at the centre of the Health Sector Development Plan. It has developed the Newborn and Child Survival Strategy (2015-2020) to strengthen the capacity of the health system and the skills of health workers to deliver quality health care to every mother and newborn baby. This includes the provision of quality antenatal care, skilled delivery, essential newborn care, postnatal care and neonatal intensive care for sick neonates.

UNICEF’s support to the newborn care programme includes;

  • Antenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, child care;
  • Health posts, health centres, and tertiary level hospitals; and
  • Integrated management of neonatal and childhood illnesses, immunization, community-based neonatal care, newborn care corners, and neonatal intensive care units.

UNICEF will continue to support the Ministry of Health to expand the availability of essential newborn care in the 800 health centers across the country, establish Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in hospitals, and strengthen the link between community-based and facility-based maternal, newborn, and child health programmes.


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