China Newborn Baby Deaths Fall with Improved Healthcare (Updated)

Research from Peking University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine finds that the death rate among newborn babies in China has fallen sharply since the mid-1990s. From Reuters:

Deaths among newborn babies fell 62 percent to 9.3 for every 1,000 live births in 2008, compared to 24.7 in 1996, they wrote in a paper published in The Lancet medical journal.

This improved figure puts China nearly on a par with Thailand at 8, Sri Lanka at 9 and Venezuela at 10. Advanced countries typically have much lower figures, such as 3 in Britain, 4 in the United States and 1 in Singapore, according to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund ….

While less than half of all women in China gave birth in hospital in 1988, hospital births had become almost universal by 2008 with the exception of women in the least developed rural areas, they found.

However, some disparity still remained as babies born in hospitals in poorer rural areas were four times more likely to die than babies born in urban hospitals.

From the paper’s abstract:

China’s success in improving the quality of and access to obstetric care in hospitals offers an opportunity to examine the effect of a large-scale facility-based strategy on neonatal mortality. We aimed to establish this effect by assessing how the institutional strategy of intrapartum care has affected neonatal mortality and its regional inequalities ….

Other countries can learn from China’s substantial progress in reducing neonatal mortality. The major effect of China’s facility-based strategy on neonatal mortality is much greater than that reported for community-based interventions. Our findings will provide a great impetus for countries to increase demand for and quality of facility-based intrapartum care.

Update: The Guardian’s Tania Branigan interviewed one of the study’s authors:

“The decline is spectacular across all the regions,” said Professor Carine Ronsmans of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the study.

“I think the Chinese government can be congratulated on its efforts to reduce neonatal mortality and maternal mortality – which has declined just as much.”

She added: “It’s a combination of strengthening facilities, training providers, equipping them with the skills and drugs to offer better care – and, through insurance, encouraging families to give birth in hospitals ….

“In urban China, babies born in hospital have a very low newborn mortality rate of 5 per 1,000, almost that of the UK, which is 3 to 4 per 1,000,” said Ronsmans.