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Why Is Infant Mortality Still So High?

Nearly 90 percent of deaths of children under five could have been avoided in 2016.

Seven thousand babies died in their first 28 days of life in 2016 and most of those deaths could have been prevented, according to a new report from the United Nations. “The first 28 days of life are the most vulnerable time for a child’s survival,” Theresa Diaz, a physician, and coordinator for the World Health Organization told Fatherly. “Children face the highest risk of dying in their first month of life as compared to dying after the first month, and the risk declines as they get older.”

While public health efforts have succeeded in lowering the overall child mortality rate—from 9.9 million in 2000 to 5.6 million in 2016—there has been less progress when it comes to protecting infants. The UN report suggests that the mortality rate for infants is increasing and that, at the current rate, 30 million newborns will be dying before their second month of life by 2030.

Most of these deaths are preventable. More than 80 percent of newborn deaths are due to treatable complications resulting from premature or abnormal birth and neonatal infections such as pneumonia and diarrhea. The report estimates that better medical care worldwide could have prevented 87 percent of deaths in children under the age of five in 2016—that’s five million lives. 

But in order to save those lives, we would need to address massive global inequities that result in deadly gaps in prenatal and postnatal care. Most of these deaths occurred in impoverished region—39 percent in Southern Asian and 38 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. The only solution is ensuring that these areas have “better educated and better equipped healthcare workers, including those with midwifery skills, and availability of essential commodities,” Diaz explains. Specifically, developing nations need more skilled birth attendants, better emergency obstetric care and emergency neonatal care, and postnatal care that makes breastfeeding support and infection management a priority.

Diaz thinks this goal is attainable. “With the right commitments, concerted efforts and political will, bold and ambitious goals are within reach one of which was to decrease child mortality,” she says.