Study Examines Factors Associated With High African Newborn Mortality Rate

Nearly 16,000 young children die every day around the world, says researcher Sue Grady, citing U.N. figures. The Michigan State University medical geographer says newborns account for about half of the deaths.

A U.N. study of neonatal mortality around the world found that Africa has the highest rate, at 28 deaths for every 1,000 live births. In a study pertaining to 14 sub-Saharan African countries, Grady and her student investigators found that neonatal mortality was significantly associated with, among other factors, home births, where babies are delivered without the supervision of a trained professional.

Grady said many of the newborns succumbed immediately after birth to asphyxiation or an inability to take their first breath. Other common causes of death were infection and diarrhea from unclean water.

Grady said newborn deaths in East and West Africa could be dramatically reduced if babies were delivered in medical facilities with trained personnel standing by.

“Focusing on real hygienic conditions as the baby is being delivered, really cleaning the umbilical cord well [and] being very, very careful as far as the water the baby receives after birth” are critical, she added.

Targeting resources

The study conducted by Grady and colleagues is aimed at informing the United Nations in its global efforts to reduce infant mortality by targeting resources where they are most needed.  

Since 1990, when the U.N. Millennium Development Goals were adopted, infant mortality has decreased 53 percent, from nearly 12 million deaths a year to about 6 million.

Those goals have been replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, a universal call to action to reduce scourges of poverty.

In Africa, Grady said, many women can not afford or access medical care or prefer to deliver their babies at home, surrounded by family and community. Newborn mortality also increases with the age of the mother, she noted.

And a disturbing trend also was found: More female babies were dying than male infants. Grady’s study, which looked at more than 344,000 births in East and West Africa, did not identify the possible causes for that, but “we do know there is some bias, so we would want to better understand why female infants were less likely to survive.”

The findings were published in the journal Geospatial Health.

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