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Newborn deaths down, but more could be avoided

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August 30, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Researchers at the World Health Organization found that more newborns die in India each year than any other country. Above, newborns in Srinagar, India
Researchers at the World Health Organization found that more newborns… (Farooq Khan / European Pressphoto…)

Fewer newborn babies around the world are dying during their first four weeks of life, researchers at the World Health Organization reported Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine.

But the news isn't all good: While global neonatal mortality is down 28% since 1990, death rates are up in eight countries: Nauru and Niue in the South Pacific; Congo, Zimbabwe, Chad, Cameroon and South Africa in Africa; and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.  About 3.3 million newborns die each year -- 900,000 in India alone.  One in 19 babies in lowest-ranked Afghanistan doesn't live past a month.

The researchers estimated that 79 million newborns have died around the world over the last 20 years.

The United States has fallen further in the neonatal mortality rankings even as its death rate has dropped 26%, according to a news release from study partner Save the Children.  That ties the U.S., with a neonatal death rate of 4.3 per 1,000 live births, with Qatar, Croatia and the United Arab Emirates for 41st lowest risk.  Twenty years ago the U.S. ranked 28th.

The three leading causes of newborn death were preterm delivery, asphyxia and infection, Save The Children noted — all avoidable.  

"We know that solutions as simple as keeping newborns warn, clean and properly breastfed can keep them alive," said Save the Children's Dr. Joy Lawn, a study coauthor, in the statement, "but many countries are in desperate need of more and better trained front-line health workers to teach these basic lifesaving practices."

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