309,000 babies die on their day of birth in India every year

Report by non-profit for children says one newborn dies every minute in South Asia; malnourishment, early pregnancy are factors

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Tuesday 07 May 2013

After making headlines for its high levels of malnourishment, India is once again in the limelight for high rate of deaths of infants on the day of birth. The country accounts for 29 per cent of all first day deaths globally – 309,000 a year.

Report highlights
  • In India, 309,000 children die each year on the day they are born, which is 29 % of the global total
  • 56,000 women die per year during child birth in India, which is the highest maternal death rate in the world
  • Virtually all (98%) newborn deaths occur in developing countries
  • South Asia accounts for 24% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s first day deaths
  • Bangladesh has reduced newborn mortality by 49 per cent since 1990. Community health workers reaching mothers and babies at home, and training birth attendants and medical staff in resuscitation device to help babies breathe are factors that aided this progress
  • Nepal has reduced newborn mortality by 47 per cent since 1990. Community-based care and a world-leading use in low-cost antiseptic chlorhexidine to prevent umbilical cord infection, is contributing to progress
The findings were revealed in the 14th annual report of non-profit Save the Children, titled State of the World’s Mothers. Pointing at the disparity between the rich and the poor, the report says if all newborns in India experienced the same survival opportunities as newborns from the richest Indian families, nearly 360,000 more babies would survive each year.

“The first day is the riskiest period in life. The younger the child, the more vulnerable he or she is. The common two reasons are inability to breathe and immature body. For mothers, too, the first day after child birth is most crucial. The most common reason for maternal mortality in India is bleeding,” said Vinod Paul, head of department of paediatrics at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

The NGO report goes on to say that 420,000 babies across South Asia die on their first day of life – that amounts to almost one infant every minute. The report indicates that chronic malnourishment which leads to mental or physical impairment or stunting is particularly severe in the region. The report’s Birth Day Risk Index shows that of the one million babies who die each year on the day they are born, almost 40 per cent of cases are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This statistic makes the first 24 hours by far the riskiest day of a human life, not just in the region but in almost every country in the world.

Two thirds of all newborn deaths occur in just ten countries: Nigeria, DR Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and China.

Stunting amongst mothers in South Asia is one of the major factors contributing to newborn baby deaths. Mothers who suffer from stunting run a higher risk of complications during birth – both for themselves and their babies. In the same countries, between 20 and 40 per cent of women are excessively thin, compounding the risks of poor pregnancy outcomes. The relatively common practice across South Asia for women to have babies at a young age, before their bodies have fully matured, also contributes to health issues for newborns.

However, the report has commended the efforts made by countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, which have demonstrated that effective solutions to this challenge exist and are affordable even in the poorest communities. The report also acclaims the work of Abhay Bang, whose pioneering model of home-based neonatal care in rural districts of India has been implemented across the region.

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