About 35 babies will be born in Bhutan on New Year’s Day, according to the health ministry and UNICEF – five of them would be either preterm or low-birth weight.

Only 40 percent of the babies are likely to survive, if special care and timely treatment are not provided, a press release from UNICEF states.

Globally, it was estimated that 395,000 babies would be born on New Year’s Day.

A quarter of all babies will be born in South Asia alone.

Over the past three decades, Bhutan has seen remarkable progress in child survival, reducing the number of children who die before their fifth birthday by more than half.

This is evident from a drop in the infant deaths (from 102 to 30 per 1,000 live births) and under-five mortality rate (from 162 to 37.3 per 1,000 live births) since 1984, according to National Health Survey 2012.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo highlighted the need to meet every newborn’s right to health and survival.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said: “Despite this significant improvement, there has been slower progress to reduce newborn deaths.”

The death of children within the first four weeks of life is still high (21 per 1,000 live births). It contributes to about 67 per cent of infant and 56 per cent of under-five mortality.

“The main challenge for us today is to reduce the deaths of children within the first four weeks of life,” director of public health, Dr Karma Lhazeen, said. “We must work together to ensure that preterm and low birth weight babies have a higher chance of survival with interventions such as Early Essential Newborn Care (EENC) and Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC).”

Dr Karma Lhazeen added that two out of three babies who do not make it to their first birthday die within the first 28 days, most of them during the first 24 hours.

In 2017, globally, about one million babies died the day they were born, and 2.5 million in just their first month of life. Among those children, most died from preventable causes such as premature birth, complications during delivery, and infections like sepsis and pneumonia, a violation of their basic right to survival.

In Bhutan, it is estimated that about 250 babies die in the first month – half of the deaths were due to complications related to prematurity.

“This New Year Day, let us all make a resolution to fulfil every right of every child, starting with the right to survive,” UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Rudolf Schwenk said. “We can save these babies if we invest in training and equipping health workers so that every newborn is born into a safe pair of hands.”

Rudolf Schwenk also said that all partners, health ministry, WHO and UNICEF must continue to join forces to continue the expansion of EENC and KMC in the country with investments in Point of Care Quality Improvement (POCQI) interventions.

The revised mother and child health handbook including the first-ever Child Development Screening Tool (CDST) was launched yesterday. This will allow health workers to detect disabilities in children on time. In addition, the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) for children under five years will also be introduced this year.

All these interventions are expected to ensure quality newborn health in Bhutan.

Staff Reporter