Quality of care

More preventable deaths occur from low-quality health care than from lack of access.

A mother holds her two-week-old baby in the palm of her hands.
UNICEF/UN0188812/Njiokiktjien VII Photo

In recent decades, the world has seen significant declines in infant and maternal mortality rates. But women and babies still die in staggering numbers before, during and after childbirth.

Most of these deaths can be averted with better-quality health care. Worldwide, more preventable deaths – an estimated 8 million – occur from poor-quality health care than from lack of access to care. Especially for the most vulnerable, patient care is too often inadequate.

Basic medicines and supplies; clean, well-equipped health facilities; and simple interventions like exclusive breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact between parents and newborns help reduce the risk of maternal and infant death. The ability of health workers, including skilled birth attendants, to swiftly respond to danger signs around the time of delivery also saves lives.

An estimated two thirds of all newborn and maternal deaths can be prevented with the help of well-trained midwives.

An estimated two thirds of all newborn and maternal deaths can be prevented with the help of well-trained midwives.

Yet, skilled health workers and birth attendants, essential medicines and supplies, and water, sanitation and hygiene services are in short supply in many developing countries. As a result, health facilities often struggle to provide the emergency care needed to treat small and sick newborns and manage acute but easily treatable conditions, including maternal complications during delivery. Without such care, many at-risk infants will not survive their first month of life.

A woman swaddles her newborn baby close to her chest.
UNICEF/UN0232373/Njiokiktjien VII Photo
In Juba, South Sudan, Sarah holds her baby close to her chest in the kangaroo mother care position.

UNICEF’s response

Quality care can save newborns, prevent stillbirths and protect the lives of mothers. Two out of every three neonatal deaths could be averted by 2030 if the world invests an additional $0.20 per person in low- and middle-income countries – saving the lives of 1.7 million newborns.

UNICEF is deeply committed to supporting infants and mothers before, during and after childbirth. We work across the globe to help train birth attendants and other health workers to provide emergency obstetric and newborn care.

Our efforts strengthen health systems at the national and community levels by improving not only access to care, but also the quality of services. To do so, we focus on increasing the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene services, and delivering essential equipment and supplies to health facilities and communities.

Between 2016 and 2018, 84 million newborns were delivered in UNICEF-supported health facilities in 52 countries with high newborn and maternal mortality rates. During the same period, UNICEF also supported the safe delivery of 2.4 million newborns in another 57 countries.

In 2017, UNICEF worked with Governments and partners to establish the Network for Improving Quality of Care for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which aims to provide every woman and newborn with good-quality care throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period. The Quality of Care Network is integral to achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goal targets for maternal and child health.


Survive and Thrive: Transforming Care for Every Small and Sick Newborn

This report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization highlights the need for accurate and reliable data to facilitate planning, measure quality and promote accountability.

Every Child Alive: The Urgent Need to End Newborn Deaths

Read more about what needs to be done to accelerate global efforts to end preventable newborn deaths.

Quality Improvement Initiatives for Hospitalised Small and Sick Newborns in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review

This article presents the measures, results and implementation challenges of improving the quality of maternal, newborn and child care in low- and middle-income countries.

Assessment of Facility Readiness for Implementing the WHO/UNICEF Standards for Improving Quality of Maternal and Newborn Care in Health Facilities

Read UNICEF’s experiences improving the quality of maternal and newborn care in three countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.