• This report also in French and Spanish.

(April 2003) The survival of newborn babies depends on the care we provide. International agreements have affirmed the world’s commitment to improving newborn health, and recent global assessments have confirmed that doing so makes good social and economic sense.

But newborn care often receives less-than-optimum attention. Although child survival programs have helped reduce the death rate among children under age 5 over the past 25 years, the biggest impact has been on reducing mortality from diseases that affect infants and children more than 1 month old. As a result, the vast majority of infant deaths occur during the first month of life, when a child’s risk of death is nearly 15 times greater than at any other time before his or her first birthday.

Almost 12,000 of the 350,000 babies born each day die within their first month of life—the neonatal period—and 98 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries. More than 4 million newborns die each year, and nearly as many babies are stillborn. Although newborns’ health is closely linked to that of their mothers, newborns have unique needs that must be addressed in the context of maternal and child health services. Millions of newborn deaths could be avoided if more resources were invested in proven, low-cost interventions designed to address newborns’ needs. Finding those resources can be a formidable task, however, since policymakers face constant challenges in deciding how to allocate scarce resources. This policy brief highlights two compelling rationales for investing in neonatal health services: Such investment is key to achieving health and development goals, and it is part of protecting newborns’ human rights.