WHO-UNICEF Report: Some 2.5 Million Newborns Died In 2017, Mostly Preventable

About 2.5 million newborns died in 2017, mostly because they couldn’t get the care that they needed during or right after birth, according to a global coalition that includes UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Key findings from the report Survive and Thrive, Transforming Care For Every Small and Sick Newborn were released today at the Partners’ Forum of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), meeting yesterday and today in New Delhi.

If mothers and their babies had universal access to quality healthcare, some 1.7 million more newborn lives could be saved each year, the report finds. A global investment of about US$ 960 million annually could save the lives of 2 out of every 3 at-risk newborns that now die in low- and middle-income countries.

Without specialized treatment, many at-risk newborns won’t survive their first month of life, according to the report. And even if they survive, these babies face chronic diseases or developmental delays. In addition, an estimated 1 million small and sick newborns survive with a long-term disability.

Nearly 30 million babies every year are born prematurely, with low birth weight or become sick within their first 28 days of life, and need specialized care to survive, the report estimates.

“When it comes to babies and their mothers, the right care at the right time in the right place can make all the difference,” Omar Abdi, UNICEF deputy executive director, said in a joint UNICEF-WHO press release. “Yet millions of small and sick babies and women are dying every year because they simply do not receive the quality care that is their right and our collective responsibility.”

The report finds that along with prematurity and low birth weight, the greatest risks to newborn survival include: complications from prematurity, brain injury during childbirth, severe bacterial infection or jaundice, and  congenital conditions.

“For every mother and baby, a healthy start from pregnancy through childbirth and the first months after birth is essential,” said Soumya Swaminathan, WHO deputy director general for programmes.

She added: “Universal health coverage can ensure that everyone – including newborns – has access to the health services they need, without facing financial hardship. Progress on newborn health care is a win-win situation – it saves lives and is critical for early child development thus impacting on families, society, and future generations.”

Along with investments in universal health coverage, the report calls for better tracking of data on newborn deaths and their causes, improved health worker skills, and stronger legislative frameworks.

With nurturing care, most at risk babies can survive and thrive without major complications.

For example, the report estimates that almost 68 percent of newborn deaths could be averted by 2030 with simple fixes such as exclusive breastfeeding; skin-to-skin contact between the mother or father and the baby; access to clean health facilities with medicines, essential equipment, and skilled health workers. Other measures like resuscitating a baby who cannot breathe properly, giving the mother an injection to prevent bleeding, or delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord could also save many newborn lives.

Many countries today are not on track for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal Health target of reducing neonatal deaths to 12 per 1000 live births (SDG 3.2). At current rates of progress, some countries will not meet this target for another 11 decades, the report projects.

The report was produced by a coalition of organizations supporting implementation of an “Every Newborn Action Plan”,  launched in 2014 and including WHO, UNICEF, the US Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Save the Children, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, International Pediatrics Association, Council of International Neonatal Nurses, the International Confederation of Midwives, and other civil society groups.

Link to the report: https://www.unicef.org/every-child-alive/Survive-and-Thrive_KEY_FINDINGS_FINAL.pdf

Image Credits: PMCH.

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