Neonatal mortality, covering deaths in the first month after birth, is of interest because the health interventions needed to address the major causes of neonatal deaths generally differ from those needed to address other under-five deaths. The world’s neonatal mortality rate fell from 33 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 21 per 1,000 in 2012. All regions saw drops, with lower percentage reductions in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (39% and 28% respectively) than other regions; even the smaller regional reductions represent significant progress. The overall result was a reduction of global neonatal deaths from 4.6 million in 1990 to 2.9 million in 2012.
Figure 1. Neonatal mortality rates are declining in every region worldwide
Neonatal mortality rates and % declines by region, 1990 and 2012
Neonatal mortality is increasingly important because the proportion of under-five deaths that occur during the neonatal period is increasing as under-five mortality declines. Because declines in the neonatal mortality rate are slower than those in the mortality rate for older children, worldwide, the share of neonatal deaths among under-five deaths increased from about 37 percent in 1990 to about 44 percent in 2012, and the trend is expected to continue.
Figure 2. Neonatal deaths are growing as a share of global under-five deaths
Age distribution of global under-five deaths, 1990-2012
Children who die before they complete 28 days of life often do so as a result of diseases and conditions that are readily preventable or treatable with proven, cost-effective interventions. Globally, morethan 20% of neonatal deaths were caused by sepsis and meningitis (12%) and pneumonia (10%) in 2012 (Figure 27). Sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia are highly treatable, provided simple interventions and basic treatment knowledge are available. Another 34% of neonatal deaths, the majority of them preventable, were caused by preterm birth complications.
Figure 3. Most neonatal deaths are from preventable causes
Global distribution of neonatal deaths, by cause, 2012
The UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME), Levels and Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2013, UNICEF, New York, 2013.
UNICEF, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – Progress Report 2013, New York, 2013.