Newborn deaths in China halved19th September 2011
China has managed to significantly cut its death rate among newborn babies in the past 15 years, a new study has found.
Neonatal deaths fell by 62% in 2008, according to a paper published recently in The Lancet.
Researchers credited a programme aimed at encouraging women to deliver in hospital with the fall in newborn deaths, which stood at 9.3 per 1,000 live births in 2008, compared with 24.7 per 1,000 live births in 1996.
In the United States, the figure is 4 per 1,000 live births, while the UK reports 3 per 1,000 live births, and Singapore just one.
According to rankings supplied by the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) China is now on the same level as Thailand (8 per 1,000 live births), Sri Lanka (9 per 1,000) and Venezuela (10 per 1,000).
Researchers from the prestigious Beijing University led by Xing Linfeng and Yan Guo analysed birth statistics from 37 urban areas and 79 rural counties.
Working together with Carine Ronsmans from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, they found that hospital births had become almost universal by 2008.
By contrast, less than half of all women in China gave birth in hospital in 1988.
However, there was still a disparity in the level of risk between urban and rural areas, with hospital-born babies in the countryside four times more likely to die that their urban counterparts.
Babies born in urban hospitals had a neonatal mortality rate of just 5·7 per 1,000 live births, compared with the overall national rate of 9.3 per 1,000 live births.
The researchers said that township-level hospitals in China were still lacking in skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care.
Hospitals at the county level or higher were more likely to deliver high standards of care, they said.
The researchers said they set out to examine the effect of China's hospital delivery policy on neonatal mortality, as well as any regional inequalities.
Using China's National Maternal and Child Mortality Surveillance System from 1996 to 2008, the researchers carried out a population-based epidemiological study using data gathered from 116 locations.
Overall, they found that the rate of neonatal mortality was much lower for hospital births than for home births in all regions of China.
The research team concluded that other countries could learn from China's "substantial progress" in reducing newborn mortality rates.
"Our findings will provide a great impetus for countries to increase demand for and quality of facility-based intrapartum care," they wrote.
The improvement seen in the shift towards hospital-based deliveries was greater than that seen in community-based interventions, they added.
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