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Strengthening maternal and newborn healthcare

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The launch of Every Child Alive campaign

very year, more than 2.5 million babies worldwide die in the first 30 days after birth. The majority of these deaths are preventable, and could be significantly reduced by ensuring mothers and babies have access to quality healthcare, good nutrition, and clean water. Aiming to tackle this issue and deliver affordable, quality healthcare for every mother and newborn child, UNICEF recently launched Every Child Alive campaign.

The risk of dying varies enormously, depending on where the child is born — Japan, Iceland, and Singapore have one of the lowest newborn mortality rates (with one death per 1,000 live births), while more than 40 newborns per 1,000 live births die in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While a country’s income level can explain part of this divide — average newborn mortality rate in high-income countries is three, while low-income countries have a newborn mortality rate of 27 — it is not the whole story. For example, in the US, a high-income country, the newborn mortality rate is four, which is only slightly better than in Sri Lanka, a lower middle-income country, where the newborn mortality rate is five.

Improving maternal health

Newborn health is intimately linked to maternal health. However, maternal health in some parts of the world today is worse than it was in other parts of the world over 300 years ago:

In 1900 in Sweden, before the construction of modern hospitals or the use of modern medicine, 228 women died per 100,000 live births; in Sierra Leone today, that number is estimated at 1,360 per 100,000, the highest in the world (compared to around 50–100 in most other countries).

Strong healthcare systems that reach the poorest and most marginalised groups are critical to make a tangible difference — for both mothers and newborn children. While there is no singular way of improving maternal and newborn healthcare, countries can learn from each other by sharing their experiences.

In Nepal, Female Community Health Volunteers have been helping mothers deliver babies in safer environments throughout the country over the last three decades. Nitin Bhandari, a research assistant on the Learning for Action Across Health Systems, explores the way in which the introduction of an integrated, community based package of care for newborn children helped to drastically reduce newborn mortality rates in Nepal, in the video below:

Discover more about the UNICEF’s Every Child Alive report.