UNICEF estimates 386,000 children were born on January 1, 2018 with more than 90 percent of them born in low and middle income countries (LMICs). India tops the list with 69,070 births, followed by China with 44,760 births and Nigeria with 20,210.
‘Some will not make it past their first day’
The statistics have been used to draw attention to the issue of child survival in the developing world. “While many babies will survive,” UNICEF said in a press release, “some will not make it past their first day.”
Twenty-six hundred children died within the first 24 hours of their birth each day in 2016, UNICEF claims. 2.6 million newborns died within a month, of whom 2 million died within a week. “Among those children,” the report adds, “more than 80 per cent died from preventable and treatable causes such as premature birth, complications during delivery, and infections like sepsis and pneumonia.”
In India, 0.75 million newborns die every year. This is more than any other country and accounts for a quarter of the world total. It is incongruous with India’s position as one of the world’s largest economies. As with many public health concerns in the country, the country’s NMR is a situation fuelled by healthcare inequities between states, sexes and socioeconomic groups. =
India has made progress in reducing its NMR. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births dropped by a third. The infant mortality rate (IMR) has, though, improved faster. In the 2000-13 period, NMR declined by 3.5 percent annually, compared to 4 percent decline for IMR.
‘Progress will remain incomplete’
Seventy percent of infant deaths in the country – and more than half of under-five deaths – happen during the neonatal period. If India does not implement ‘specific efforts to reduce newborn mortality’, the study warns, it will not achieve targets of reducing under-five mortality to 20 or less deaths per 1,000 live births by 2035 under the UNICEF project ‘Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed’ which seeks ‘to end preventable child deaths by accelerating progress on maternal, newborn and child survival.’
Worldwide, “the lives of 50 million children under-five have been saved since 2000”, says UNICEF Chief of Health Stefan Swartling Peterson. He describes this as “a testament to the serious commitment by governments and development partners to tackle preventable child deaths.”
“But unless we do more to stop babies from dying the day they are born, or days after their birth,” Peterson adds, “this progress will remain incomplete. We have the knowledge and technologies that are required – we just need to take them where they are most needed.”
More work to be done
This certainly applies to India. It would be wrong to deny the progress the country has made on the health of its children in the past two decades. As reported by Health Issues India last year, policies adopted since 2005 have saved the lives of a million children. However, much remains to be done.
A number of controversies in Indian hospitals last year spotlighted the issue of newborn mortality in the country. At a hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh seventy children died within a few days, reportedly due to medical negligence. A number of similar cases were reported across the country in the following months. This led to international media attention and public outcry.
It was accusations of medical negligence that fuelled the scrutiny surrounding these cases, however. The preventable deaths of 0.75 million Indian newborns every year are so commonplace that they are rarely, if ever, devoted the same level of attention.