Press release: Nigeria’s newborn death toll highest in Africa


Saving newborn lives key to achieving child survival goal, says new report

New data shows that as the death toll in Nigeria is falling, the percentage of deaths that happen in the first month of life is increasing. Newborn deaths now make up 28% of all deaths under five years compared to 24% two years ago. Six out of 10 mothers give birth at home without access to skilled care during childbirth and it is in the first few days of life when both women and newborns are most at risk.

Every year 241,000 babies die in the first month of life in Nigeria making it the African country with the highest newborn death toll, a new Ministry of Health report, Saving Newborn Lives in Nigeria, revealed today.

The report calls for an increased focus on reducing newborn deaths, the vast majority of which are avoidable. It says thousands of newborn lives can be saved via simple methods, such as teaching mothers about danger signs, encouraging them to seek help early and making sure there is enough medicine and enough healthcare workers at community health centres. The policies are mostly in place and the cost is affordable so now priority must be given to implementing these policies and making sure all families receive essential care.

“The loss of a baby at birth or soon after is a very traumatic experience, especially when the majority of these deaths can be prevented with well known interventions. Such loss affects the family, and also carries social and economic ramifications for the nation, creating a vicious cycle that keeps families in poverty,” said Save the Children in Nigeria’s Country Director, Susan Grant. “The health and survival of Nigeria’s newborns has gone unnoticed for too long.”

The report reveals that there is wide variation in mortality across Nigeria. Nearly 3,000 mothers, newborns and children die every day but there is a big difference between states, between urban and rural areas and between the poorest and the richest. This is partly due to the fact that, although the Nigerian health system is rich in human resources compared to many other African countries, there is inequitable distribution of maternal, newborn and child health staff across the country. For example, while over 90% of women in two states – Anambra and Imo – give birth with a skilled attendant present, in 6 states - Katsina, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, and Yobe, fewer than one in ten women have access to skilled care at birth.

The report, which will be unveiled on 13 January at the 42nd annual Paediatric Association of Nigeria Conference, includes up-to-date child and maternal health profiles for each of the 36 states in Nigeria, as well as national data in order to make local decision making more effective. Mickey Chopra, UNICEF Chief of Health and the global Countdown to 2015 for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health co-chair says from New York, “We applaud Nigeria for this report focusing on state level data and critical coverage, equity and quality gaps. We call on the technical and political leaders in Nigeria to use this data to set evidence-based priorities, invest in implementation and be accountable for change, especially for the poorest families.”

Every state is different and so the key to success is the use the local data contained in the report so State and Federal Ministries of Health can develop and implement an effective, comprehensive health system that reaches all mothers and their newborns.

Nigeria is one of the first African countries with an integrated plan to look after mothers, newborns and children right through from conception to the child’s fifth birthday. The Federal Ministry of Health’s Integrated Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Strategy, is to be commended but implementation has been slow and coverage remains low and inequitable. “We need more funding for maternal, newborn and child health, and specifically a budget line for newborn health in national and state budgets,” says Dr Nkeiru Oneukwusi, Head of the Child Health Division at the Federal Ministry of Health. “We must re-double our efforts to make progress and save children’s lives in line with the United Nations Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.”

Recommendations for the report

The Saving Newborn Lives in Nigeria report calls on healthcare decision makers to:

  • Ensure leadership, appropriate funding and accountability by meeting the target set in the Abuja Declaration of 2001 to allocate 15% of the national government’s annual budget to health. The 2007 allocation for health of 6.5% of national government spending is still far below this target.
  • Prioritize tackling malnutrition. More than a third of children’s deaths are attributed to maternal and child under nutrition, so it must be addressed to attain the Millennium Development Goals on eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
  • Orient policies, guidelines and services to include newborn care including advocacy for the passage of the National Health Bill into federal law and ensure its prompt implementation, while continuing roll-out of the IMNCH strategy in all state and support the development, review, dissemination and implementation of newborn care standards, to be adapted and used at state level. In addition, to review, adapt and disseminate newborn care standards and ensure accelerated implementation at state and LGA levels. Saving more newborn lives requires free and equitable access to a comprehensive package of health services for all mothers, newborns, and children under five years of age.
  • Effectively plan for and implement policies related to human resources, equipment and supplies and accelerate implementation of the highest-impact and most feasible interventions using a clear, data-based process. Priorities and phasing of implementation will differ by state and can be linked to the IMNCH strategy planning process in each state in the context of the State Strategic Health Development Plan.

For more information on the Saving Newborn Lives in Nigeria report or to speak with newborn health experts, contact Hadiza Aminu at +234 803 388 1288 or

Notes to Editors

The report is led by the Federal Ministry of Health in partnership with multiple agencies and professional associations. It features letters of commitment from key stakeholders in maternal, newborn and child health in Nigeria including the global Countdown to 2015 for MNCH; UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA; USAID’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) led by Jhpiego, the Partnership for Revising Routine Immunisation in Northern Nigeria / MNCH project; Save the Children, Nigeria’s health professional associations (Pediatric Association of Nigeria, Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria, Nigerian Society of Neonatal Medicine and the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives), celebrity ambassadors for children, and the Minister of Health.