Infant mortality rates still high in Bhutan

Preterm birth is the top cause for newborn deaths in the country

UNICEF: Despite Bhutan’s progress in improving the survival of infants and those under-five years, the number of babies dying within the first 28 days of birth is still high, according to a UNICEF policy brief for Bhutan.

The national health survey, 2012, found that 21 out of 1,000 babies born alive die within the first month of birth, indicating that about 67 percent of infant deaths occur in the first 28 days of birth.

A dedicated mother and child hospital at the JDWNRH complex has been planned in the 11th Plan, the prime minister had announced last November when Bhutan observed the World Prematurity Day.

Paediatricians and neonatologists have reminded policy makers during such occasions that preterm births in Bhutan, is the top cause for newborn deaths (less than one month old), and the second cause for deaths in young age and disease burden.

The need to bring Bhutan’s attention to save more lives within the first 28 days of their lives has come just as UNICEF, in a press release, warned that “the global community will fail millions of children if it does not focus on the most disadvantaged in its new 15-year development roadmap.”

UNICEF’s final report on the child-related Millennium Development Goals called Progress for Children: Beyond Averages, states that, despite significant achievements, unequal opportunities have left millions of children living in poverty, dying before they turn five, without schooling and suffering chronic malnutrition. 

“The MDGs helped the world realise tremendous progress for children – but they also showed us how many children we’re leaving behind,” UNICEF’s executive director Anthony Lake said in the press release. “The lives and futures of the most disadvantaged children matter – not only for their own sake, but for the sake of their families, their communities and their societies.” 

Bhutan has achieved the Millennium Development Goal 4 target with infant and under-five deaths.  The National Health Survey found that under-five mortality rate (deaths per 1000 live births) stood at 37.3 and infant mortality rate was 47.

A study that examined the socioeconomic determinants of child mortality and malnutrition in Bhutan, Yuka Karasawa, a PhD fellow with the medical university, found that socioeconomic status had a statistically significant impact on child deaths and child malnutrition.

The study, which also presented during the annual medical conference earlier this year, found that there was a difference in child death by mother’s education, when no education was compared with secondary education.

UNICEF has cautioned that continued failure to reach these children, who has been left behind in the development process can have dramatic consequences.  It calls on world leaders, who are preparing to adopt the sustainable development goals (SDG), to go beyond averages, such as those used to measure the MDGs, to help identify the most vulnerable and excluded children and where they live.

“The SDGs present an opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and reach the children in greatest need – and shame on us if we don’t,” Anthony Lake said.

By Sonam Pelden

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