NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 12, 2006

More than four million newborns worldwide die each year in their first month of life, comparable to the number of babies born in the United States annually, according to Save the Children, a nonprofit group.

Ninety-nine percent of newborn deaths occur in developing countries, with South Asia and Africa having the highest rates. Many of those infants could be saved with simple, inexpensive items, the group says, including:

  • Sterile blades to cut the umbilical cord.
  • Antibiotics for pneumonia.
  • Knit caps to keep them warm.

"Three out of four newborn deaths could be avoided with simple, low-cost tools that already exist," says Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The authors also outlined other methods to help reduce infant mortality, including:

  • Making prenatal care, birth attendants and immunization programs to prevent tetanus in newborns and mothers a priority.
  • Education about the importance of breast-feeding from the very start, and avoiding other liquids that contain dirty water and can cause diarrhea, often deadly to a weakened newborn.
  • Access to modern contraceptives to allow enough time between births to preserve the mother's health and reduce the likelihood that their babies are born with low birth weights.

Some developing countries that have made newborn and maternal health a priority -- among them Indonesia, Eritrea, Nicaragua and the Philippines -- have succeeded in cutting newborn death rates. But unfortunately others are performing worse than expected, compared with nations at similar levels of wealth, including Angola, Ivory Coast, Mali, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

Source: Celia W. Dugger, "Infants Dying for Lack of Basics," New York Times, May 9, 2006

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