Who can save the unseen? Studies on neonatal mortality in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam
Abstract: Globally, neonatal mortality has remained basically unchanged for the last three to four decades and every year almost four million newborns die before reaching one month of age. This persistent mortality is related to an invisibility of the newborn child in policies and statistics and a neglect of health care decision-makers, planners and practitioners to deliver a perinatal continuum of care. In recent years attention has however been brought to the unchanged neonatal mortality in an effort to improve survival.The present thesis seeks to increase understanding of obstacles for better neonatal survival. The studies performed are undertaken as sub-studies to the NeoKIP project in Quang Ninh province in northern Vietnam, a randomized controlled trial of knowledge implementation for improved neonatal survival (Neonatal Health – Knowledge Into Practice, ISRCTN 44599712). In the first paper we investigated and discussed the scope of invisibility of neonatal mortality through measuring the accuracy of official statistics on neonatal deaths. The second paper reports an inquiry of determinants of neonatal mortality by use of a population-based case-referent design. Paper III and IV analyse delivery care utilization and care seeking patterns prior to and at delivery using narratives and GIS technique.There was a substantial under-reporting of neonatal mortality in the official statistics, with study results showing a four times higher neonatal mortality rate in Quang Ninh province than reported to the Ministry of Health. This neonatal mortality rate of 16/1000 live births (as compared to 4.2/1000 in official reports) was unevenly distributed in the province, showing large geographical discrepancies. In the rural and remote areas of Vietnam education level is lower and the concentrations of ethnic minorities and poor households are higher. Ethnic minority belonging was associated with a more than doubled risk of neonatal death compared to the hegemonic group of Kinh (OR 2.08 CI 95 % 1.39 – 3.10). This increased risk was independent of household economic status or maternal education level. Neonatal mortality was also associated with home deliveries, non-attendance to antenatal care and distance to the health care facilities. However, ethnic minority mothers still had an increased risk of experiencing a neonatal death even if they attended antenatal care, delivered at or lived close to a health facility.The invisibility of the neonatal period in health information systems hides the true width of the neonatal mortality challenge. By not acknowledging the problem, the marginalization of already disadvantaged groups continues, leaving ethnic minority babies with an elevated risk of dying during the first month in life. This example of ethnic inequity highlights the importance to target those most in need. The studies of the present thesis should therefore be looked upon as a contribution to the struggle to illuminate the global burden of neonatal mortality.
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