17 November 2021

Investing in newborn health in South Asia

South Asia has made significant progress in reducing childhood deaths. Despite this progress, 38% of neonatal deaths in the world occur in South Asia. Each year, over 65,000 mothers and 1 million newborns are dying in the region, with an additional 1 million babies stillborn (Akseer. N., 2017; Hug L, 2019). Countries in the region have committed to reducing the neonatal mortality rate to 12 per 1000 live births by 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). South Asia, as well as most individual countries in the region, is currently not on track to achieve the SDG newborn mortality target.  UNICEF’s new report, Investing in Newborn Health in South Asia, indicates that with sufficient investment, every country in the region can achieve the SDG target by 2030. The study was commissioned by UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and implemented by the Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne. The study provides guidance to countries to estimate a best value-for-money package of interventions for each country to meet the SDG newborn target.   Which newborn interventions are needed to achieve the SDG targets? What will be the cost of achieving the desired level of coverage with quality services? What economic returns can we expect for the investment, in addition to the newborn lives saved?  The need to invest in newborn health is even more necessary amidst the current COVID-19 crisis. Vulnerable children, mothers and adolescents have paid a heavy price as the COVID-19 pandemic swept South Asia. Lockdowns and travel restrictions severely disrupted neonatal health services across South Asia. Mothers were unable to complete vital routine prenatal check-ups.  South Asia remains committed to achieving the SDGs. However, with competing priorities, and at a time when the pandemic is putting greater pressures on already constrained health budgets, governments need to prioritize investing in newborn health. This would save the lives of 3.3 million newborn babies in South Asia. At the same time, every one dollar invested in newborn health can provide a return on investment of at least two dollars and in some cases as high as seventeen dollars despite pessimistic growth projections over the next decade. Even with a 50% increase in investments for newborn health, countries can ensure a healthier generation that performs better in schools and later becomes part of a productive workforce, ultimately boosting economic growth for all. NOTE: Use the dropdown menu on the right to download the main report and country-specific reports for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan.