Mikkel Oestergaard and colleagues develop annual estimates for neonatal mortality rates and neonatal deaths for 193 countries for 1990 to 2009, and forecasts into the future.
Historically, the main focus of studies of childhood mortality has been the infant and under-five mortality rates. Neonatal mortality (deaths <28 days of age) has received limited attention, although such deaths account for about 41% of all child deaths. To better assess progress, we developed annual estimates for neonatal mortality rates (NMRs) and neonatal deaths for 193 countries for the period 1990–2009 with forecasts into the future.
Methods and Findings
We compiled a database of mortality in neonates and children (<5 years) comprising 3,551 country-years of information. Reliable civil registration data from 1990 to 2009 were available for 38 countries. A statistical model was developed to estimate NMRs for the remaining 155 countries, 17 of which had no national data. Country consultation was undertaken to identify data inputs and review estimates. In 2009, an estimated 3.3 million babies died in the first month of life—compared with 4.6 million neonatal deaths in 1990—and more than half of all neonatal deaths occurred in five countries of the world (44% of global livebirths): India 27.8% (19.6% of global livebirths), Nigeria 7.2% (4.5%), Pakistan 6.9% (4.0%), China 6.4% (13.4%), and Democratic Republic of the Congo 4.6% (2.1%). Between 1990 and 2009, the global NMR declined by 28% from 33.2 deaths per 1,000 livebirths to 23.9. The proportion of child deaths that are in the neonatal period increased in all regions of the world, and globally is now 41%. While NMRs were halved in some regions of the world, Africa's NMR only dropped 17.6% (43.6 to 35.9).
Neonatal mortality has declined in all world regions. Progress has been slowest in the regions with high NMRs. Global health programs need to address neonatal deaths more effectively if Millennium Development Goal 4 (two-thirds reduction in child mortality) is to be achieved.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Every year, more than 8 million children die before their fifth birthday. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries and most are caused by preventable or treatable diseases. In 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing child mortality to one-third of its 1990 level by 2015 as Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG4). This goal, together with seven others, is designed to help improve the social, economic, and health conditions in the world's poorest countries. In recent years, progress towards reducing child mortality has accelerated but remains insufficient to achieve MDG4. In particular, progress towards reducing neonatal deaths—deaths during the first 28 days of life—has been slow and neonatal deaths now account for a greater proportion of global child deaths than in 1990. Currently, nearly 41% of all deaths among children under the age of 5 years occur during the neonatal period. The major causes of neonatal deaths are complications of preterm delivery, breathing problems during or after delivery (birth asphyxia), and infections of the blood (sepsis) and lungs (pneumonia). Simple interventions such as improved hygiene at birth and advice on breastfeeding can substantially reduce neonatal deaths.
Why Was This Study Done?
If MDG4 is to be met, more must be done to prevent deaths among newborn babies. To improve survival rates and to monitor the effects of public-health interventions in this vulnerable group, accurate, up-to-date estimates of national neonatal mortality rates (NMRs, the number of neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births) are essential. Although infant (under-one) and under-five mortality rates are estimated annually for individual countries by the United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, annual NMR trend estimates have not been produced before. In many developed countries, child mortality rates can be calculated directly from vital civil registration data—records of all births and deaths. But many developing countries lack vital registration systems and child mortality has to be estimated using data collected in household surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (a project that helps developing countries collect data on health and population trends). In this study, the researchers estimate annual national NMRs and numbers of neonatal deaths for the past 20 years using the available data.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used civil registration systems, household surveys, and other sources to compile a database of deaths among neonates and children under 5 years old for 193 countries between 1990 and 2009. They estimated NMRs for 38 countries from reliable vital registration data and developed a statistical model to estimate NMRs for the remaining 155 countries (in which 92% of global live births occurred). In 2009, 3.3 million babies died during their first month of life compared to 4.6 million in 1990. More than half the neonatal deaths in 2009 occurred in five countries—India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. India had the largest number of neonatal deaths throughout the study. Between 1990 and 2009, although the global NMR decreased from 33.2 to 23.9 deaths per 1,000 live births (a decrease of 28%), NMRs increased in eight countries, five of which were in Africa. Moreover, in Africa as a whole, the NMR only decreased by 17.6%, from 43.6 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 35.9 per 1,000 live births in 2009.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings suggest that neonatal mortality has declined in all world regions since 1990 but that progress has been slowest in the regions with high NMRs such as Africa. Although there is considerable uncertainty around the estimates calculated by the researchers, these findings nevertheless highlight the slow progress in reducing the neonatal mortality risk over the past 20 years and suggest that the relative contribution of neonatal deaths to child deaths will increase into the future. Thus, if MDG4 is to be achieved, it is essential that national governments and international health bodies invest in improved methods for the measurement of neonatal deaths and stillbirths and increase their investment in the provision of care at birth and during the first few weeks of life.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001080.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4, and its Childinfo Web site provides detailed statistics about child survival and health, including a description of the United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation and a link to its database, and information on newborn care (some information in several languages)
The World Health Organization also has information about the Millennium Development Goal 4, provides information on newborn mortality, and provides the latest estimates of child mortality
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
Information is also available about the Demographic and Health Surveys