World is failing newborn babies, says UNICEF

Tanzania has made progress in reducing child mortality, however neonatal mortality remains stubbornly high

20 February 2018

NEW YORK & DAR ES SALAAM, 20 February 2018 – Deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high globally, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF said in its new report on newborn mortality released today. Babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while those in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

“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 who are less than one month old,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is 3 deaths per 1,000 births. In Tanzania, the newborn mortality rate stands at 25 deaths per 1,000 births according to Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS 2015-16). If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income country average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

The report also notes that 8 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. Babies born in the riskiest places are up to 50 times more likely to die than those from the safest places.

In Tanzania, good progress has been made in reducing deaths among children under-five, however a similar trend is yet to be seen for newborn and maternal deaths. Tanzania has one of the highest numbers of newborn deaths in the world: approximately 39,000 die annually, 17,000 of them in their first day of life. An additional 47,550 babies are stillborn and some 8,000 mothers die every year during childbirth.

Significant progress has been made in the country giving Tanzanian children a better chance of surviving past their fifth birthday. However, challenges still persist. Every day, 270 children under-five die, most from preventable causes such as malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea.

“About 6 in 10 deaths occur in the first year of life, while 4 in 10 deaths occur in the first month of life. We can save these lives with simple and affordable, quality health services that need to reach and be accessed by every mother and her newborn, across the country. UNICEF is committed to support the government’s endeavors in reducing the newborn mortality rate. We all need to commit to giving every child a fair chance at the start of life. It’s both the right and the smart thing to do,” said Maniza Zaman, UNICEF Representative in Tanzania.

Unequal shots at life

Highest newborn mortality rates

1. Pakistan: 1 in 22 
2. Central African Republic: 1 in 24 
3. Afghanistan: 1 in 25 
4. Somalia: 1 in 26 
4. Lesotho: 1 in 26 
4. Guinea-Bissau: 1 in 26 
4. South Sudan: 1 in 26 
8. Côte d'Ivoire: 1 in 27 
9. Mali: 1 in 28 
9. Chad: 1 in 28

Lowest newborn mortality rates

1. Japan: 1 in 1,111 
2. Iceland: 1 in 1,000 
3. Singapore: 1 in 909 
4. Finland: 1 in 833 
5. Estonia: 1 in 769 
5. Slovenia: 1 in 769 
7. Cyprus: 1 in 714 
8. Belarus: 1 in 667 
8. Luxembourg: 1 in 667 
8. Norway: 1 in 667 
8. Republic of Korea: 1 in 667

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says. These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like 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 means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is 1 per 10,000 in Somalia.

This month, UNICEF is launching Every Child ALIVE, a global campaign to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every child alive by:

  • Recruiting, training, retaining and managing sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care;
  • Guaranteeing clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
  • Making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
  • Empowering adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.

“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," said Fore. "We know we can save the vast majority of these babies 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.” 

In Tanzania, a year-long campaign has been planned to support the amplification of issues around maternal and newborn deaths in the country. The aim will be to create a national momentum on the issue, targeting the most disadvantaged adolescents, pregnant and lactating women.


Download photos, b-roll and the full report here

Media contacts

Usia Ledama
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Tanzania
Tel: +255 762 871830


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