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5.5 million babies are born and die each year without being recorded

One in three newborns do not have a birth certificate by their first birthday and researchers say this reflects the world’s acceptance that these deaths are inevitable.

Image: baby image via Shutterstock

EACH YEAR, 5.5 million babies enter and leave the world without being recorded and one in three newborns – that’s over 45 million babies – do not have a birth certificate by their first birthday.

Babies who are stillborn, born too early, or who die soon after birth are least likely to be registered, even in high-income countries. Figures show that just three per cent of livebirths are registered by a child’s first birthday.

Findings in a series of academic papers published in The Lancet today paint a picture of a newborn’s chance of survival and the steps that need to be taken to end preventable infant deaths. New analyses as part of the papers indicate that three million maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths can be prevented every year with proven interventions like the promotion of breastfeeding, neonatal resuscitation and prevention and treatment of infections.

The research was led by a team in London with collaboration with 55 health experts around the world. Commenting on the findings, Professor Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said:

Every day, 15,000 babies are born and die without ever receiving a piece of paper. The lack of recording reflects the world’s acceptance that these deaths are inevitable. This fatalism, lack of attention, and lack of investment are the reasons behind lagging progress in reducing newborn deaths – and even slower for progress in reducing stillbirths.

“In reality, these deaths are nearly all preventable. Counting and naming every newborn is a statement that we expect that baby to survive and receive the care he or she needs, especially around birth,” she said.

Newborn deaths now account for a larger proportion of under five child deaths – 44 per cent in 2012, compared to 36 per cent in 1990. In most regions of the world, more than half of child deaths are among newborns.

Countries like Germany, the UK and the US are among high income nations showing the slowest progress in reducing their neonatal mortality rates. However it is in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that there is the highest burden of newborn deaths.

Researchers said the greatest opportunity for saving lives is to invest in high impact care during the time just before and immediately after birth. Quality care at birth accounts for 41 per cent of the estimated 3 million lives saved.

Family planning services and high coverage of interventions before conception are also key in driving down the number of fatalities.

This week, at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, governments will review the Every Newborn Action Plan. The plan is based on a series of measures that are already proving effective in keeping women and children healthy. The authors of the papers said today is an “unprecedented opportunity for progress”.

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