A neonatal death (also known as a newborn death) is defined as a death in the first four weeks of life of a baby who was born alive. Globally, about 3 million newborn deaths occur in the first four weeks of life and there are also 3 million stillbirths. A stillbirth is defined as the delivery of a dead baby after the 24th week of pregnancy. Before 24 weeks the loss of the fetus is usually referred to as a miscarriage.

Africa accounts for 11% of the world's population, but more than 25% of the world's newborn deaths. Of the 20 countries in the world with the highest risk of neonatal death, 15 of them (75% of the total) are in Africa. Approximately one million African babies are stillborn, of whom at least 300,000 die during labour. A further 1.16 million African babies die in their first four weeks of life, with up to half of these on the first day — and another 3.3 million will die before they reach their fifth birthday. Four million low birth weight babies, and others with neonatal complications survive, but may not reach their full potential (Save the Children, USAID, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO. Opportunities for Africa's Newborns: Practical Data, Policy and Programmatic Support for Newborn Care in Africa, 2006).

Neonatal mortality rates

The neonatal mortality rate is the number of deaths in the first four weeks (28 days) of life for every 1,000 babies born alive. This rate is usually referred to as 'neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births'. Neonatal mortality rates have also been calculated by the EDHS. In 2005, the rate was 39 deaths per 1,000 live births. Ethiopia is one of five countries that contribute to half of Africa's newborn deaths. The primary causes of these deaths are infection, asphyxia and preterm birth. Later in this study session, we will show you how to calculate the neonatal mortality rate in your catchment area.