India has maximum infant deaths in the world

Lancet study says 5.5 million infant deaths in the world go unrecorded

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 22 May 2014


Every year, more than 750,000 children in India die before completing the first year of their lives. The number is more than that of any other country in the world.

A research led by London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine states India recorded 779,000 deaths in 2012. It was followed by Nigeria with 276,000 deaths, Pakistan with 202,400 deaths, China with 157,000 deaths and the Democratic Republic of Congo with 118,000 deaths. Together, the five countries contribute to half of the total infant deaths in the world. 

The findings were published in The Lancet, a UK-based medical journal, on Tuesday. The study, conducted in 195 countries, gives a clear picture of the chances of survival of newborns and the steps that should be taken to prevent infant deaths. It also gives a comprehensive data of neonatal deaths, stillbirths, rate of progress, coverage of birth certificates in the 195 countries, besides ranking them.

Paucity of data 
This apart, around 5.5 million infants leave the world without being recorded, and one in three newborns—over 45 million babies—do not have birth certificates on their first birthday. The researchers point towards lack of complete data which results in weak planning. Babies who are stillborn, born premature, or who die soon after birth are least likely to be registered even in high-income countries, say researchers. This is the key reason for slower progress in reducing newborn deaths compared to maternal and child deaths. For India to meet its international child mortality target, the country must accelerate the progress, says the study.

The authors estimate that 2.9 million newborn deaths and 2.6 million stillbirths (occurring in the last three months of pregnancy) take place worldwide every year. Three million maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths could be prevented annually with proven interventions such as breastfeeding, neonatal resuscitation, kangaroo mother care to pre-term babies, antenatal corticosteroids and prevention and treatment of infections. These interventions can be implemented at an annual cost of US$1.15 per person.

Highlighting an important but largely unacknowledged global problem, researcher Joy Lawn says, “So far, investment on the health of newborns has been minuscule. Nearly half (44 per cent) of the total deaths in children below five years are in the first month of their lives. Yet only, 4 per cent of donor funding to child health even mentions the word ‘newborn’,” he says. 

“Another critical issue is the need for more skilled midwives and nurses to look after women in labour and small and sick newborns. We now know what needs to be done differently. The study outlines bold but achievable targets for reducing newborn deaths and stillbirths. The forthcoming Every Newborn Action Plan will build on these targets and provide momentum in many countries for accelerated action,” he adds.

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