Newborn Health: The Issue

Why and Where are Newborns Dying?

Four out of five newborn deaths result from three preventable and treatable conditions: preterm birth, infections and intrapartum related complications (“birth asphyxia”). Ninety-eight percent of newborn deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries with weak health systems. In these settings, 60 million women give birth outside of a health facility, usually at home, and 52 million without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant. Learn more about the causes of newborn death.

Although neonatal mortality rates vary widely among regions, more than two-thirds of the world's neonatal deaths occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Ten countries alone account for 65% of the total annual number of neonatal deaths. These same 10 countries also account for roughly two-thirds of all stillbirths and 60% of maternal deaths worldwide.

top 10 countries with neonatal deaths

When Do Most Newborn Deaths Occur?

The risk of newborn death is highest during childbirth and directly afterwards: almost half of all newborn deaths occur in the first 24 hours of life, and 75 percent occur in the first week. Quality care at birth is critical to avert the deaths of mothers, newborns and stillborn babies. After delivery, common conditions and illnesses can turn deadly without timely, basic and low-cost care, including warmth, hygiene, early and exclusive breastfeeding, antibiotics and neonatal resuscitation. While families can be counseled on practicing healthy behaviors at home to avert illness, a range of health workers can also prevent and manage newborn complications through home visits and at facilities.

Newborn Care Matters

Millennium Development Goal 4 - to cut child mortality by 2/3 by 2015 - cannot be achieved without substantially reducing newborn mortality rates.
Learn more about progress in mortality reduction

What Saves Newborns?

Two-thirds of newborn deaths could be prevented through the high coverage of low-cost, low-tech maternal, newborn, and child health interventions.

Less than one U.S. dollar per capita each year would deliver the following essential interventions to 90 percent of mothers and babies in high-mortality countries:

  • Antenatal care for pregnant women: Tetanus immunization, management of complications and infections — including HIV/AIDS — and promotion of good nutrition
  • Childbirth care: Clean delivery, skilled birth attendance and newborn resuscitation
  • Postnatal care: Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, keeping the newborn dry and warm, clean cord care, special care for small babies and treatment of infections

Last Updated November 2012