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Last update: Oct 2012

World Fit For Children Goal
To place special emphasis on prenatal and post-natal care, essential obstetric care, and care for newborns, particularly for those living in areas without access to services

The challenge

About 40 percent of the estimated 6.9 million under-five deaths are neonatal, occurring during the first 28 days of life. Complications related to preterm birth or complications during birth as well as infectious conditions including pneumonia cause 84 per cent of these deaths. Improving neonatal survival is essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality, MDG 4.


About 40% of global under-five deaths occur during the neonatal period
Global distribution of neonatal deaths among children under five, 2010

                                                                                                                                           Distribution of causes of death
                                                                                                                                            during the neonatal period %

Source: CHERG 2012 as published in ‘Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – Progress Report 2012.


The vast majority of newborn deaths occur in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia which have the highest neonatal mortality rates among regions as well as the largest number of annual births.

Amidst progress, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, present the highest neonatal mortality rates
Neonatal mortality rate (per 1,000 live births), by region, 1990-2011


Source: The UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME), Levels and Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2012,  UNICEF, New York, 2012.


Skilled care at birth is essential for the well-being of both mother and child. Furthermore, both must have access to emergency care because rapid response is required in the event of life-threatening complications at birth. For example, post-partum haemorrhage is a serious complication that can kill a woman in a matter of hours, and a newborn who is not breathing at birth could die in a matter of minutes.

Reachable life-saving interventions

Most deaths of newborn babies occur at home, among poor people, and are associated with inadequate maternal health care during pregnancy and childbirth. Lack of maternal health services such as antenatal care and skilled birth attendance are a large part of the problem. A large proportion of the babies who die could be saved with low-tech, low-cost interventions, which would also help save the lives of mothers and prevent stillbirths.

A broad range of interventions can reduce neonatal mortality
Key interventions for reducing neonatal mortality and morbidity


Source: Based on Darmstadt, G. L. et al., ‘Evidence-based, Cost-effective Interventions: How many newborns can we save?’, The Lancet, vol. 365, no. 9463, 12 March 2005, pp. 977–988 with updates from http://www.who.int/pmnch/topics/part_publications/essential_interventions_18_01_2012.pdf. As published in Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – Progress Report 2012.


Cost-effective, feasible interventions for newborns include initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth, ensuring proper cord care, keeping the baby warm and dry, recognizing danger signs and seeking help, and giving special care to infants with low birthweight.

The best way to ensure a continuum of care from pregnancy through early childhood is by integrating interventions in community-based programmes and linking them to other services within health systems. In addition to the key interventions described above, adequate nutrition for pregnant and nursing women is essential for the well-being of both mother and child.

Efforts to develop a core set of indicators to monitor these newborn care interventions are under way. But more work is needed to finalize these indicators for inclusion in household surveys.


UNICEF addresses newborn health within existing programme areas, such as immunization, nutrition, maternal health, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS, and prevention and control of malaria. The promotion of home-based newborn care  has also been recently recommended jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF as a strategy to improve survival.

Home visits for care of the newborn

WHO and UNICEF recommend that care be provided by a skilled attendant during and immediately after birth, irrespective of where the birth takes place. When appropriate, home visits can  provide effective elements of care to newborns and increase newborn survival. This strategy has shown positive results in high-mortality settings by reducing newborn mortality and improving essential newborn care practices.


During home visits the following key interventions should be supported and promoted:

• Early and exclusive breastfeeding

• Assistance to keep the baby warm – promotion of skin-to-skin care contact

• Umbilical cord and skin care

• Assessment for danger signs and counselling on their prompt recognition and care-seeking by the family

• Birth registration and timely vaccination according to national schedules

• Identification and support to newborns who need additional care (low birthweight, mother HIV-infected); if possible, provision of home treatment for local infections and feeding problems


As the core principle underlying maternal, newborn and child health is to deliver a ‘continuum of care,’ indicators related to newborn health should be seen within this context.


Continuum of care: Coverage of key neonatal survival interventions in the developing world, 2010 or latest period available


Notes: * Calculated for total low- and middle-income countries. ** The aggregate value for intermittent preventive treatment of malaria refers to Africa only.
Source: UNICEF global databases 2011, from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, Demographic and Health Surveys and other national surveys.



UNICEF, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – Progress Report 2012, New York 2012.


The UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME), Levels and Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2012,  UNICEF, New York, 2012.


World Health Organization, World Health Statistics 2011, Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG) estimates, WHO, 2011.

UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World, UNICEF, New York, 2012.


The Lancet Neonatal Survival Series, March 2005.


The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.


Countdown to 2015 Decade Report (2000–2010): Taking stock of maternal, newborn and child survival, WHO and UNICEF, 2010.

WHO/UNICEF Joint Statement, Home Visits for the Newborn Child: A strategy to improve survival, WHO, 2009.