The USA is in 41st place worldwide regarding newborn mortality rate, a drop from 29th place in 1990. America’s newborn death rate today is equal to that of Croatia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to a new report published in PLoS Medicine. The article is a collaboration between WHO (World Health Organization) and Save the Children, which covers all 193 WHO member nations over two decades.

The newborn death rate, also known as newborn mortality rate or neonatal mortality rate, refers to the proportion of babies who die during the first four weeks of life.

Newborn deaths worldwide dropped from 4.6 million in 1990 to 3.3 million in 2009. The three main causes of newborn deaths are severe infections, asphyxia and preterm delivery. Although the drop in numbers over two decades is good news, the authors say progress has been too slow, especially in the African continent.

Newborn mortality rates increased over the last two decades in 8 countries, five of them in Africa. In Africa, the newborn mortality rate in 1990 was 43.6 per 1,000 live births, compared to 35.9 in 2009, a decrease of less than 1% per year.

Coauthor Dr. Joy Lawn of Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, said:

“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.”

The US newborn mortality rate dropped by 26% in two decades, compared to a worldwide average of 28%. America is behind 40 others countries, with a newborn rate of 4.3 per 1,000 live births.

In Afghanistan, 1 in every 19 newborns dies within the first month of life, a newborn mortality rate of 53 per 1,000 births. In India over 900,000 babies die within four weeks of being born. Over the past two decades, over 4% of babies born live in India died within 28 days. Five countries account for over 50% of all newborn deaths – DR Congo, China, Pakistan, Nigeria and India.

In 1990, Nigeria had the 5th highest newborn mortality rate, now it has the 2nd highest. Experts say that for African countries to reach mortality rates found in the top-twenty industrialized nations will take 155 years, at current rates of progress, while Latin America will take 30 years.

Lawn said:

“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. 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.”

According to WHO:

  • 40% of all deaths of children under the age of five globally are among newborn infants during their first four weeks of life
  • Three-quarters of all newborn deaths occur during the first seven days of life
  • Almost half of all mothers and newborns in developing nations receive no skilled care during and immediately after birth
  • Two thirds of newborn deaths are preventable
  • In developing nations most newborns die at home

Written by Christian Nordqvist