The last 25 years have seen drastic improvements in child mortality rates. The number of deaths among kids have dropped by more than 60 percent in that time. But the same cannot be said for neonatal deaths, which research has shown are not decreasing at the same pace as that of older children. And now a new report released by the United Nations predicts that a shockingly high number of newborns could die if more is not done to combat preventable deaths.
More than two million newborns worldwide died last year within the first weeks of life, accounting for 46 percent of all child deaths before age 5, according to the United Nations report. That's a 5 percent increase in neonatal deaths within a 15-year period — a stark contrast to the decline seen in the number of deaths among kids ages 1 to 5, The Guardian reported. If the rate of neonatal deaths continues to trend upward, the United Nations predicts that an estimated 30 million newborns are projected to die within the first 28 days of life by 2030.
Most newborn deaths are caused by entirely preventable conditions. According to the World Health Organization, the leading causes of neonatal deaths include pregnancy- and birth-related complications, congenital abnormalities, and infections.
The United Nations acknowledges that great strides have been made in improving health conditions for children and their families across the globe. But many families, particularly in poor and underserved communities, still lack access to proper hygiene, sanitation, and safe and clean medical care, Newsweek reported. According to UN data, most newborn and child deaths happen within Central and South America, Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, and Asia.
Tim Evans, senior director of Health Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group, said in a statement of the report, according to Newsweek,
It is unconscionable that in 2017, pregnancy and childbirth are still life-threatening conditions for women, and that 7,000 newborns die daily. The best measure of success for universal health coverage is that every mother should not only be able to access health care easily, but that it should be quality, affordable care that will ensure a healthy and productive life for her children and family.
This is not the first time neonatal deaths have seen an increase in numbers. According to the World Health Organization, newborns who died within the first 28 days of life accounted for 44 percent of child deaths occurring under 5 years old. Thirteen years prior, the number of neonatal deaths only accounted for 37 percent of deaths — a 7 percent different, WHO reported.
So what can be done to reduce child mortality rates? In 2015, the World Health Organization had outlined key steps to combating preventable deaths across the globe by two-thirds. Among the steps, WHO included vaccinations, appropriate home care, timely treatment of health complications, prevention and management of infections, and improved infant and young child feeding as necessary interventions to decreasing newborn and child deaths. In addition, WHO has stressed the importance of proper and skilled maternal health care during pregnancy and childbirth as ways to prevent child deaths.
More so, according to UNICEF, research has shown that millions of child deaths each year could be prevented by using "low-tech, evidence-based, cost-effective measures." Those measures can be as simple as vaccination, access to antibiotics, or improving breastfeeding practices. But in order for these interventions to be implemented, public health officials, lawmakers, and world leaders need to come together and work on developing sensible and effective policies that put public health first.
After all, all children deserve to live full and healthy lives.