Small babies, big risks: global estimates of prevalence and mortality for vulnerable newborns to accelerate change and improve counting

The Lancet Small Vulnerable Newborn Steering Committee, WHO/UNICEF Preterm Birth Estimates Group, National Vulnerable Newborn Measurement Group, Subnational Vulnerable Newborn Measurement Group

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Small newborns are vulnerable to mortality and lifelong loss of human capital. Measures of vulnerability previously focused on liveborn low-birthweight (LBW) babies, yet LBW reduction targets are off-track. There are two pathways to LBW, preterm birth and fetal growth restriction (FGR), with the FGR pathway resulting in the baby being small for gestational age (SGA). Data on LBW babies are available from 158 (81%) of 194 WHO member states and the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, with 113 (58%) having national administrative data, whereas data on preterm births are available from 103 (53%) of 195 countries and areas, with only 64 (33%) providing national administrative data. National administrative data on SGA are available for only eight countries. Global estimates for 2020 suggest 13·4 million livebirths were preterm, with rates over the past decade remaining static, and 23·4 million were SGA. In this Series paper, we estimated prevalence in 2020 for three mutually exclusive types of small vulnerable newborns (SVNs; preterm non-SGA, term SGA, and preterm SGA) using individual-level data (2010–20) from 23 national datasets (∼110 million livebirths) and 31 studies in 18 countries (∼0·4 million livebirths). We found 11·9 million (50% credible interval [Crl] 9·1–12·2 million; 8·8%, 50% Crl 6·8–9·0%) of global livebirths were preterm non-SGA, 21·9 million (50% Crl 20·1–25·5 million; 16·3%, 14·9–18·9%) were term SGA, and 1·5 million (50% Crl 1·2–4·2 million; 1·1%, 50% Crl 0·9–3·1%) were preterm SGA. Over half (55·3%) of the 2·4 million neonatal deaths worldwide in 2020 were attributed to one of the SVN types, of which 73·4% were preterm and the remainder were term SGA. Analyses from 12 of the 23 countries with national data (0·6 million stillbirths at ≥22 weeks gestation) showed around 74% of stillbirths were preterm, including 16·0% preterm SGA and approximately one-fifth of term stillbirths were SGA. There are an estimated 1·9 million stillbirths per year associated with similar vulnerability pathways; hence integrating stillbirths to burden assessments and relevant indicators is crucial. Data can be improved by counting, weighing, and assessing the gestational age of every newborn, whether liveborn or stillborn, and classifying small newborns by the three vulnerability types. The use of these more specific types could accelerate prevention and help target care for the most vulnerable babies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1707-1719
Number of pages13
JournalThe Lancet
Issue number10389
StatePublished - May 20 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine

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