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NZ perfectly poised to save the lives of Pacific babies

Kiwi babies have excellent chances of surviving their first month, but global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high

21 February, 2018: Kiwi babies have excellent chances of surviving their first month, but global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF said today.

New Zealand’s newborn mortality rate is 3.0 deaths per 1000 live births, meaning just one in 333 babies dies within the first month of life. Globally, the lowest rates are in Japan (0.9, one death in every 1111 live births) andIceland (1.0, one death in every 1000). Australia’s rate is 2.2 (one death in every 455).

Throughout the Pacific the rates are much more concerning. Of New Zealand’s nearest neighbours, Kiribati has the highest rate of deaths per 1000live births (22.6) followed by Vanuatu (11.8), Fiji (8.8), Samoa (9.2) and Tonga (6.8).

“Babies born in New Zealand are lucky enough to get a great start at life. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could share our knowledge and resources so that all babies, including those born throughout the Pacific, get the same great chances?” said Vivien Maidaborn, UNICEF NZ’s Executive Director.“Newborn babies just a couple of hours north of us are dying because of a lack of midwives, facilities and clean running water. We can change that,” she said.

The average newborn mortality rate in low-income countries is 27 deaths per 1,000 births. In high-income countries, the rate is 3 deaths per 1,000. If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world don’t survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born.

"We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn.Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific’s Representative.

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to premature birth, complications during labour, or infections such as pneumonia. Such deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding instruction, and good nutrition.

“New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, recently indicated he would like to see an increase to NZ’s international aid contribution. Here’s a perfect example of how that could help,” said Ms Maidaborn. “For a relatively small amount of money, New Zealand can save the lives of babies throughout thePacific. I can’t imagine any New Zealander would object to that.”