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Study: U.S. Newborn Death Rate on Par with Qatar and Croatia, Worse Than in 40 Countries ? Including S. Korea, Cuba, Poland

Save the Children teams up with World Health Organization to produce most comprehensive newborn death estimates to date

WESTPORT, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Aug 31, 2011 - Twenty years ago, U.S. newborns had a better chance of survival than babies born in Malaysia, Cuba, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, Estonia and Israel. Not anymore, according to a new study published in PLoS Medicine.


A newborn baby in Mali, which has one of the world's highest risks of newborn death. A new study fin ... A newborn baby in Mali, which has one of the world's highest risks of newborn death. A new study finds that, globally, 3.3 million babies still die in the first month of life each year, although most of these deaths are highly preventable. Credit: Jonathan Hubschman/Save the Children


Researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Save the Children have produced the most comprehensive estimates to date of newborn deaths and mortality rates, covering all 193 WHO member countries over 20 years. These are the first global estimates to track newborn deaths, which occur in the first four weeks of life, over time.

From 1990 to 2009, annual newborn deaths decreased from 4.6 million to 3.3 million, but the study's authors say progress is too slow in many countries and especially in Africa. The three leading causes of newborn death – preterm delivery, asphyxia and severe infections – are highly preventable with proper care.

“Newborns are barely on the global health agenda and this study lays out the tragic results of that neglect. Each year 3.3 million babies still die in the first four weeks of life -- despite the existence of proven, cost-effective interventions that could save these newborn lives,” said coauthor Dr. Joy Lawn of Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives program.

In 20 years, the United States reduced its newborn mortality rate 26 percent, slower than the global average of 28 percent. The United States now trails 40 other countries when it comes to risk of newborn death. In 1990 the United States had the 28th lowest risk. It is now tied for 41st place with Qatar, Croatia and United Arab Emirates. All have a newborn death rate of 4.3 per 1,000 live births.

But many countries do far worse. Afghan babies face the greatest risks – with 1 in 19 dying in the first month of life (53 per 1,000 births). India has the greatest number of newborn deaths – more than 900,000 a year. The study also finds that five countries now account for more than half of the world's 3.3 million newborn deaths – India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nigeria rose from 5th to 2nd-ranked in number of newborn deaths, reflecting the trend that African newborns especially are being left further behind. At the current rate of progress it will take 155 years for African babies to have the same chance of survival as babies in high-income countries have today. In contrast, it will take babies in Latin America only 30 years to catch up, the study found.

“We know that solutions as simple as keeping newborns warm, clean and properly breastfed can keep them alive, but many countries are in desperate need of more and better trained frontline health workers to teach these basic lifesaving practices,” said Lawn. “The global health worker crisis is the biggest factor in the deaths of mothers and children, and particularly the 3.3 million newborns dying needlessly each year. Training more midwives and more community health workers will allow many more lives to be saved.”

The full paper is available here:

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Posted: September 2011