May 20, 2014
New Figures On Global Newborn Deaths And Stillbirths Reveal 5.5 Million ‘Invisible Deaths’ Every Year
A major new Series of papers, published today [Tuesday 20 May] in The Lancet, presents the clearest picture to date of progress and challenges in improving newborn survival around the world, and sets targets that must be achieved by 2030 in order to ensure every newborn has a healthy start.The research is led by Professor Joy Lawn, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Save the Children, UK, with Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta at the Hospital for Sick Children, Canada, and the Aga Khan University, Pakistan, in collaboration with more than 54 experts from 28 institutions in 17 countries, and provides the evidence base and foundation for the forthcoming Every Newborn Action Plan, an evidence-based roadmap towards care for every woman, and a healthy start for every newborn baby, which will be launched in June 2014.
The Series shows that almost all of the 5•5 million newborn and stillborn babies who die every year enter and leave the world without a piece of paper; this lack of registration and official recognition reflects acceptance of these deaths as inevitable. Preterm babies are less likely to be counted, even in rich countries, especially where they are not expected to survive. The lack of registration is a key reason for slower progress in recent decades for newborn deaths compared to maternal and child mortality reduction – progress which can, and must, be accelerated if international child mortality targets are to be met.
"Throughout the Series, evidence and experience from some of the most improved, as well as the worst affected, countries shows that newborn and maternal deaths are preventable," says Professor Bhutta. "Our research shows that three million lives can be saved by 2025 if achievable interventions are scaled up to nearly universal coverage, and improving care at the time of birth gives a triple return on investment saving mothers, newborns and stillbirths. Care of small and sick newborns is the next highest impact package, yet this has received little attention up to now, despite extremely cost effective solutions such as antenatal steroids and kangaroo mother care."
Professor Lawn adds, "So far investment targeted to newborn health has been minuscule – nearly half (44%) of all deaths in children under five are in the first month of life, yet only 4% of donor funding to child health even mentions the word 'newborn'. Another critical issue is the need for more midwives and nurses with skills to look after women in labour and small and sick newborns. We now know what needs to be done differently - and the Series outlines bold, but achievable, targets for reducing newborn deaths and stillbirths. The forthcoming Every Newborn Action Plan will build on these targets and provide momentum in many countries for accelerated action."