Infant Mortality & Newborn Health
In 2016 4.2 million babies died within the first year of life with the risk of dying over six times higher in Africa than Europe on average.
Averages can hide a wide degree of variation - the number of deaths per 1000 births was 3.8 in the UK, and a staggering 83.3 in Sierra Leone.
Babies are particularly vulnerable during their first few weeks with deaths in the first 28 days accounting for over 50% of the losses to infant mortality. Attention to newborn health in the first month after birth is thus critical.
Behind every figure lies a tragedy - a father losing a daughter or a mother losing a son. To add to the tragedy over half of these deaths could be avoided with access to simple and affordable interventions.
Pictures from some of our programmes
FAQs about Infant Mortality
Click on a heading below to learn more:
What is the definition of infant mortality? Open or Close
A number of statistics are used to describe mortality rates in children as follows:
Under-five mortality rate: The probability of dying between birth and five years of age over a specific period, expressed per 1,000 live births.
Infant mortality rate: The probability of dying between birth and one year of age, over a specific period, expressed per 1,000 live births.
Newborn or neonatal mortality rate: The number of deaths during the first 28 completed days of life per 1,000 live births in a given year or period.
Perinatal mortality: The number of stillbirths and deaths in the first week of life per 1,000 live births.
How do infant mortality rates compare to the UK? Open or Close
Infant mortality is measured as the number of deaths per 1000 live births for children in their first year of life. Rates from 2016 for a number of countries where we work are shown below. Sierra Leone has a rate nearly 20 times higher than in the UK.
3.8 / 1000 in the UK
23.9 / 1000 in Guatemala
28.2 / 1000 in Bangladesh
40.1 / 1000 in Myanmar
41 / 1000 in Ethiopia
37.7 / 1000 in Uganda
83.3 / 1000 in Sierra Leone
What are the leading causes of infant mortality? Open or Close
The leading causes of infant deaths are:
Birth asphyxia, a failure to initiate and sustain breathing at birth, accounts for about a quarter of all newborn deaths across the world. Effective resuscitation at birth can prevent a large proportion of these deaths.
Pneumonia is the prime cause of death in children under five. The major risk factors include malnutrition and indoor air pollution. Measures to prevent it include vaccination and breastfeeding, and children who suffer from pneumonia need access to antibiotics and oxygen.
Pre-term birth complications – pre-term birth is rising in most countries, and is now the second leading cause of death globally for children under five, after pneumonia. Low-birth-weight babies are more likely to survive if they are kept warm by skin-to-skin contact with their mother.
Diarrhoeal diseases are a major cause of sickness and death among children in developing countries. Breastfeeding helps prevent diarrhoea among young children, and treatment with oral rehydration salts combined with zinc supplements is safe, cost-effective and saves lives.
Malaria kills one child every minute. Insecticide-treated bed nets prevent transmission and increase child survival.
Measles is a leading cause of childhood mortality. Measles can be completely prevented with two doses of a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine but in many developing countries, poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information can make it difficult for families to secure preventative vaccinations for their children.
Malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to severe diseases and is an underlying factor in about one-third of all child deaths.
How can the risks of infant mortality be prevented? Open or Close
Health risks to newborn babies are minimised by:
Quality care during pregnancy.
Safe delivery by a skilled birth attendant.
Good neonatal care: immediate attention to breathing and warmth, hygienic cord and skin care, and early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding.
Insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent the transmission of malaria.
Antiretrovirals for women with HIV, along with safer delivery and feeding practices.
Providing timely, accessible, quality care could prevent almost three quarters of infant deaths each year and substantially reduce maternal deaths. The package of essential care includes antenatal care, obstetric care and a birth attendant who has the ability to resuscitate newborns at birth.
Most infection-related deaths could be avoided by treating maternal infections during pregnancy, ensuring a clean birth and hygienic cord care and promoting immediate and exclusive breastfeeding.
For mothers and babies with an infection, antibiotics are lifesaving and need to be available locally. In addition, low-birth-weight babies need to maintain their body temperature through skin-to-skin contact with the mother.
Improving local health care is a key element in increasing survival rates, but this is not enough on its own. Women, their families and communities also need education and information so they can care for themselves, recognise the risks and demand access to the care they need.
Find out more about our work
Our work has been shown to reduce a woman's chance of dying due to pregnancy or childbirth by up to 50% and reduces the risk of a newborn baby dying by over a third.