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Neonatal Mortality
The United Nations plans to combat under-five mortality with its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.2, which aims to “end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age.” The project, if successful, will help to fight neonatal mortality as well.

The 17 SDGs are launching following the commencement of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 with a 2030 target date. The MDGs were able to save approximately six million children worldwide, which was a 53 percent reduction in under-five mortality.

There is still room for progress. Neonatal mortality comprised 45 percent of deaths among children under five in 2015 and continued to be a significant component of under-five deaths. As a result, as part of SDG 3.2, the U.N. aims to lower neonatal mortality to as low as 12 per 1,000 births.

The neonatal mortality rate was highest in the World Health Organization’s Regions of Africa. This region was where over one-third of under-five child deaths occurred in the neonatal period. A recent study that appeared in Geospatial Health determined the significant factors that contributed to neonatal mortality in East and West Africa and outlined ways in which the SDGs can help.

The study identified home birthing as a major risk factor for neonatal mortality in East Africa. Another risk was maternal exposure to unprotected water sources. Both of these factors largely contributed to the correlation between home births and neonatal mortality. This correlation is because these people face exposure to unclean water, which can lead to an infection of either the umbilical cord or intestinal track.

The SDG Goal Six aims to tackle the problem of unsafe and inaccessible water. By 2030, the U.N. hopes to “achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.”

One common explanation for the high neonatal mortality rates in East Africa has been a lack of education for women. SDGs 4.1 and 4.5 intend to ensure all boys and girls free, quality primary and secondary education. This policy will help eliminate any gender disparities in education.

Home births were a risk factor for neonatal mortality in West Africa, too. The study found that 48.6 percent of mothers had home deliveries. Other significant risk factors included mothers who did not intend to have another child or who only completed primary education.

The study suggests improving prenatal care, including family planning education, and ensuring access to at least secondary education. SDG 4.3 seeks to make technical vocational training more accessible, and SDG 3.87 aims to create maternity health care systems that include “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services.”

If the U.N. has the same success for the SDGs that they did with the MDGs, they could save millions of more lives and drastically reduce neonatal mortality.

Lauren Mcbride

Photo: Flickr


The winning team in Northwestern University’s 4th Annual Global Health Case Competition proposed a sustainable, long-term health plan in the form of a “birth kit” to reduce neonatal mortality in Nigeria.

Every day, nearly 2,300 Nigerian children under the age of five lose their lives. According to UNICEF, essential medical care during childbirth and the weeks following would have prevented most of these deaths.

Neonatal mortality in Nigeria constitutes a quarter of deaths among children under five. A majority of these deaths occur within the first week after birth and are caused by birth asphyxia, infection and premature birth.

On Feb. 18, 2017, Northwestern conducted its annual health case competition. For the fourth year, the university invited students to propose solutions to a 21st-century global health challenge to raise awareness and encourage innovative thinking. The 2017 competition included six teams consisting of five students each from different schools.

The 2017 case centered around neonatal mortality in Nigeria and the implementation of chlorhexidine, an inexpensive and effective antiseptic gel. Severe infection and sepsis, an immune response to bacterial infection in the bloodstream, are two of the leading causes of neonatal death in Nigeria. The students’ assignment involved integrating chlorhexidine into “Nigeria’s healthcare institutions, culture, and maternal care regime.”

The winning team’s three-year implementation plan centers around a “birth kit,” which includes the chlorhexidine gel and other materials essential for home births. The umbilical cord is a common entry point for infectious diseases, so the gel would be used to sanitize and protect mothers and their newborns. Sustainability was the team’s focal point. They proposed a partnership with a nonprofit to help cooperatively create a demand for the birth kit, then slowly normalize chlorhexidine in Nigeria’s childcare culture.

Courtney Zhu, a member of the winning team and a sophomore studying journalism and global health, said, “From this experience, I gained insight into the mechanism of tackling modern health challenges, and realized just how valuable collaboration is in a multidimensional field like global health.”

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr