Imagine for a moment that you are about to give birth at home and accompanied only by a few members of your family.
You are in pain, but you have no access to a doctor, nurse or midwife. You know there is a real risk that both you and the baby you have been waiting to meet may not survive the birth. Even if you and the baby survive, you know that the coming days and weeks will be filled with danger.
Imagine now that you are a midwife, preparing to deliver a premature baby. The health center where you work has no running water, no electricity, and few supplies. You are standing in the dark, your mobile phone clenched between your teeth, its dim glow the only light available to guide you.
The mother before you are 16 years old. She is entering the active phase of labor. You are her only source of medical help and hope.
These scenarios illustrate the harsh reality faced by millions of mothers, babies and health workers around the world. It is a reality that we can and must change to keep.
Every year, 2.6 million babies die before turning one month old. One million of them take their first and last breaths of the day they are born. Another 2.6 million are stillborn. Each of these deaths is a tragedy, especially because the vast majority are preventable.
More than 80 percent of newborn deaths are the result of premature birth, complications during labor and delivery and infections such as sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. Similar causes, particular complications during labor, account for a large share of stillbirths.
Millions of young lives could be saved every year if mothers and babies had access to affordable, quality health care, good nutrition, and clean water. But far too often, even these basics are out of reach of the mothers and babies who need them most.
Deaths among children aged 1 month to 5 years old have fallen dramatically in recent decades. But progress in reducing the deaths of newborn babies, those aged less than 1 month has been less impressive, with 7,000 newborns still dying every day.
This is partly because newborn deaths are difficult to address with a single drug or intervention, they require a system-wide approach. It is also due to a lack of momentum and global commitment to newborn survival. We are failing the youngest, most vulnerable people on the planet, and with so many millions of lives at stake, time is of the essence.
According to a report by UNICEF dubbed ‘Every Child Alive’, Newborn survival is closely linked to a country’s income level. High-income countries have an average newborn mortality rate (the number of deaths per thousand live births) of just 3.
In comparison, low-income countries have a newborn mortality rate of 27. This gap is significant: If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average, or below, by 2030, 16 million newborn lives could be saved.
Moreover, national mortality rates often mask variations within countries: Babies born to mothers with no education face almost twice the risk of dying during the newborn period as babies born to mothers with at least a secondary education. Babies born to the poorest families are more than 40 percent more likely to die during the newborn period than those born to the least poor.
The report further notes that these babies are not dying from medical causes such as prematurity or pneumonia. They are dying because their families are too poor or marginalized to access the care they need. Of all the world’s injustices, this may be the most fundamental.
Improving access to maternal and newborn health services is, therefore, a necessary first step in bringing down rates of newborn mortality. And yet, if the quality of services is inadequate, the mere presence of a health facility or health worker is not enough to make the difference between life and death.
UNICEF’s global Every Child ALIVE campaign is an urgent appeal to governments, businesses, health-care providers, communities and individuals to fulfill the promise of universal health coverage5 (UHC) and keep every child alive.
The campaign, aims to build consensus for the principle that every mother and every baby deserves affordable, quality care, supports UNICEF and partners as they work together to realize the promise of Place, People, Products and Power in 10 focus countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Together, these countries account for more than half of the world’s newborn deaths.