Despite significant improvement in under-five mortality, from 162 to 33 per 1000 live births in a country, new-born deaths remains high accounting for 70% of all infant deaths and more than half of under-five deaths.
Currently, 21 of every 1,000 newborn babies die within the first month of birth where four out of five deaths result from preventable and treatable conditions.
Premature birth is seen as the major cause of the newborn deaths and preterm birth is estimated at 1,380, which is one preterm birth for every 10 births. It was also found out that 37% of preterm deaths is contributing to neonatal mortality in the country.
The Ministry of Health in partnership with the UNICEF and WHO has developed Bhutan Newborn Action Plan (2016-2023) to accelerate the reduction of newborn deaths.
Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the action plan is a quality improvement intervention to improve the care for newborns for health centers and communities in the country.
The health minister said that Bhutan aspires to reach a newborn death rate of below 13.2 per 1000 live births by 2023, from 21 per 1000 live births at present.
“Unless services to better respond to the needs of preterm babies and their families improve, accompanied by behavior change by the people in the community, it will be difficult to realize this critical national goal,” he added.
Hospitals in the country have initiated the implementation of ‘Kangaroo Mother Care’ for preventing early deaths.
Birth defects lead to 20% of deaths, followed by birth asphyxia and neonatal infection, which is treatable, and results in 75% of all newborn deaths.
Care around labour, delivery and immediate after birth, can prevent 40 percent newborn deaths and one in four newborn deaths can also be prevented by simple hand washing with soap by health staff and caregivers.
Skin-to-skin contact to keep babies warm is also seen to prevent half of the deaths in preterm babies.