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Reducing Deaths related to Premature Births in the Pacific

© UNICEF Pacific/2006/Pirozzi
MCH ward at the Port Vila Central Hospital where UNICEF provides vaccines, basic drugs and medical supplies. Images on growth monitoring, immunization, cold chain, consultation with children (ear infection and anemia plus respiratory infection)

SUVA, 18 November 2013 –A leading cause of death of newborn babies in the Pacific is premature or preterm births. As fewer babies die from other preventable causes – which is good news – the percentage of deaths from prematurity increases. Having successfully tackled many other preventable causes, Ministries of Health and UNICEF are turning their attention to prematurity. For example, with the reduction in deaths from vaccine preventable diseases, and other cause, neonatal mortality contributes up to 50% of the child mortality rates.

In Fiji, the neonatal mortality rate (NMR) accounts for 50% of the under-5 deaths (U5MR) in children and 60% of the infant mortality rate (IMR) in children. Kiribati has corresponding figures of NMR accounting for 41% and 51% of U5MR and IMR respectively. In the Solomon Islands the figures are 42% and 50% of U5MR and IMR respectively. Vanuatu recorded the figures of 50% and 57% of U5MR and IMR respectively.

This means that in all four countries newborn deaths contribute 50% or more of all deaths under 1 year of age and 40% or more of all deaths under 5 year of age. By ensuring that babies are not born too soon we can reduce such rates and ensure that babies are born health and fit.

In Fiji, at least 43% of these newborn deaths are from preterm complications. In Kiribati the rate is 50% and in Solomon Islands, it is 33%. “Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn deaths (babies in the first four weeks of life) and now the second-leading cause of death after pneumonia in children under the age of five,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Pacific Representative, Dr. Karen Allen.

“The knowledge and technology is available to drastically reduce deaths from preterm complications. There are even approaches that are low cost,” she added.

Preterm deaths can be reduced through family planning, reduced birth to adolescents and older mothers, plus improved quality of care before, between and during pregnancy.

She further commented that, “Governments in the Pacific have committed to A Promise Renewed, which is a pledge made by more than 100 countries around the world to prioritize child survival. These countries are taking action to turn commitment into actions in health facilities and communities to reduce preventable child deaths,” she added.

“Of course, every child has the right to survive and thrive,” she said, and health workers and parents need to know how to make that a reality.”


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and our work in the Pacific visit:

For more information, please contact Donna Hoerder, UNICEF on (679) 3236 100 or



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