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Unicef says 'world is failing newborns' as global baby mortality rates remain 'alarmingly high'

Ireland has ranked 164th in the global neonatal mortality rate.

A baby at a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Ethiopia
A baby at a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Ethiopia
Image: Mulugeta Ayene via Unicef

GLOBAL DEATHS OF newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, Unicef has said.

The organisation’s new report on newborn mortality rates globally - Every Child Alive – has found that babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival.

In contrast, newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic (CAF) and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

One in every 22 babies dies in Pakistan, one in every 24 in CAF, and one in every 25 in Afghanistan. However, just one in every newborn 1,111 in Japan dies, and one in every 1,000 in Iceland.

Ireland has ranked 164th in the global neonatal mortality rate (using median value). In 2016, one in every 455 newborn died.

Capture Source: Unicef

Around the world

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births. In high-income countries, that rate is three deaths per 1,000.

The report also notes that eight out of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions.

Unicef said that if every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by the year 2030, a total of 16 million lives could be saved.

More than 80% of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report said.

Unicef said that some of these deaths could be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.

However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives in many countries has meant that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive.

For example, Unicef outlined that while there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives in Norway to serve 10,000, that ratio is one per 10,000 in Somalia.

“While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one-month-old,” Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director said.

“Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly we are failing the world’s poorest babies,” she said.

This month, Unicef is launching its Every Child Alive global campaign in a bid to demand solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns.

“Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world do not survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born,” Forde said.

“We know we can save the vast majority of these with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.”

Read: Oxfam chief executive says criticism over prostitution scandal has been ‘disproportionate’

More: Transgender woman able to breastfeed in first recorded case

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