Addressing Critical Knowledge Gaps in Newborn Health

Newborn Numbers: 2008 estimates


Where newborns are dying

Although neonatal mortality rates vary widely among regions, more than two-thirds of the world's neonatal deaths occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. With 2,393,000 annual newborn deaths, ten countries alone make up for 67% of the total annual number of neonatal deaths. These same 10 countries also account 62% of maternal deaths worldwide1. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, an estimated 1,243,000 babies die before they reach one month of age2.

Causes of newborn death

Three main causes of death — infections, complications of prematurity, and intrapartum-related deaths ("birth asphyxia") — account for more than 80 percent of newborn deaths globally1. Of these, 3/4 occur during the first week of life; up to 45% in the first 24 hours. An estimated 2/3 of newborn deaths could be prevented annually through the high coverage of low-cost, low-tech maternal and newborn health interventions.

The latest estimates of global deaths each year are1:

  •  Neonatal infections (excluding tetanus): 963,000
  •  Intrapartum-related deaths ("birth asphyxia"): 814,000
  •  Complications of prematurity: 1,033,000

Data resources

The following resources are recommended sources for global and country data. Take a look at the trends and progress towards improving newborn health around the world. 

The Countdown to 2015 Initiative tracks coverage levels for health interventions proven to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality. Download the latest report and access country-specific profiles for 68 countries. 


The DHS program, funded by USAID, provides technical assistance to countries to conduct surveys on population, health, HIV and nutrition, advancing global understanding of health and population trends in developing countries. Reports, survey questionnaires, and related materials are available for downloading. The DHS website also includes Statcompiler, which provides quick facts and country comparisons, allowing users to build customized tables from hundreds of DHS surveys and indicators.

The Guttmacher International Data Center allows users to create tables and maps with the most current data available from 75 countries and 22 world regions. The Data Center is an easy to use tool for finding information on abortion, pregnancy, services and financing, adolescents, and contraception.


The Lancet Series on Stillbirth presents the most comprehensive assessment to date of global numbers and causes of stillbirths, perceptions and beliefs around the world, and the solutions to prevent stillbirths—well-known interventions as well as innovations.


The December 2010 issue of Seminars in Perinatology higlights Global Perinatal Health. The papers provide insight on accelerating progress through innovations, interactions, and interconnections. Read the article that reviews progress for newborn health globally, with a focus on the countries in which most deaths occur.  


Each year, The State of the World's Children, UNICEF's flagship publication, closely examines a key issue affecting children. The report includes supporting data and statistics that can be downloaded in MS Excel format and is available in French and Spanish language versions.

Childinfo contains UNICEF’s statistical information, including data used in UNICEF’s publications, The State of the World’s Children and Progress for Children. In addition, Childinfo holds technical resources for conducting UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), a major source of global development data. 

World Health Statistics is the WHO's annual report that presents the most recent health statistics for 193 member states. All reports are available for download in Adobe PDF and MS Excel and include country-level data on mortality rates, cause of death, human resources and coverage indicators. In addition, the Global Health Observatory is WHO's portal providing access to data and analyses for monitoring the global health situation.

WHO Neonatal Mortality Statistics. Raw data inputs for country neonatal mortality estimates can be downloaded here, including latest estimates and methodology for neonatal mortality.


1. Lawn JE, Kerber K, Enweronu-Laryea C, and Cousens S (2010). 3.6 Million Neonatal deaths - What is Progressing and What is Not? Seminars in Perinatology; 34,(6); 371-386.

2. Kinney MV, Lawn, JE, and Kerber KJ, eds., (2009). Science in action: Saving the lives of Africa’s mothers, newborns, and children. Cape Town, South Africa. Report for the African Academy Science Development Initiative.

3. Lawn JE, Cousens S, Zupan J. 4 million neonatal deaths: When? Where? Why? (2005) The Lancet, 365:891-900.