Surge in newborn deaths raises concerns 

Infant

Countries should aim to have a neonatal mortality rate of 12 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 25 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • About five million children under five died, with half of those, about 2.4 million, being newborns.
  • The worrying number of deaths, the report says, is cause for alarm.

In 2020, Kenya lost more than 100,000 children to preventable causes before their fifth birthday, a new study says.

According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report, the deaths were 62,000 under five years, 46,000 infants and 31,000 newborns. Much of this loss of life could have been prevented, says the report, the latest since Covid-19 was recorded in the country.

The report, titled “Levels and Trends in Child Mortality Estimates”, reveals that the country lost 20,000 children aged between five and 14 and 14,000 between 10 and 19 years. The country lost 18,000 aged 15 to 24, while nearly a million adolescents died in 2020 globally.

About five million children under five died, with half of those, about 2.4 million, being newborns. The worrying number of deaths, the report says, is cause for alarm. It says more than 50 countries will not meet the under-five mortality target by 2030 while 60 will miss the neonatal mortality target.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal number eight of ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under five, all countries should aim to have a neonatal mortality rate of 12 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 25 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030.

On neonatal mortality rate, Kenya still lags behind, with 32 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 42 deaths per 1,000 live births. Kenya is one of the countries mentioned in the report that may miss meeting the 2030 targets if it does not double down on its efforts to ensure the most vulnerable children survive.

Leading cause of death in children

In Kenya, pneumonia remains the leading cause of death in children under five followed by asphyxia, prematurity complications, and neonatal sepsis.

Highlighting some of the factors that have contributed to the high number of deaths in neonates, Dr Caroline Mwangi, the head of the Division of Neonatal and Child Health at the Ministry of Health, said quality services to sick newborns in the country is wanting. 

According to 2021 data from the Kenya Health Information System, only 25 percent of sick newborns are cared for in a facility able to provide a basic minimum package of services, with only 29 per cent providing a bed for caregivers taking care of low birth weight infants. 

“Even in facilities that are equipped to deal with neonatal health issues, bed occupancy is often above recommended norms [with babies sharing incubators/cots], nurse-to-baby ratios are often very high [typically one nurse attending to more than 15 sick babies and even higher ratios on night shifts], the much-needed nursing care such as feeding, comforting and maintaining hygiene is affected,” Dr Mwangi said. 

Furthermore, lack of quality maternal and newborn health services has largely contributed to neonatal deaths, with the sector receiving low financial resource allocation, thereby hindering the interventions aimed at improving newborn and child health indicators. 

“The risk of dying between the ages of five and 24 is lower than for children under five years. The probability of dying among children and youths aged five to 24 was 18 deaths per 1,000 children aged five years in 2020. 

“The five million deaths among children under five that occurred in 2020 alone are all the more glaring now that the world has lost close to the same number of people to Covid-19 and has mobilised to slow these vaccine-preventable deaths through immunisation,” says the report.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.