NEW DELHI: Stillbirths in 2019 were concentrated in India, followed by Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China and Ethiopia, as per estimates released by UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group and the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The report titled–A Neglected Tragedy: The Global Burden of Stillbirth–highlighted that these six countries accounted for half of the estimated number of stillbirths world over and 44% of live births.
It warned that the covid-19 pandemic can worsen the situation. A 50% reduction in health services due to the pandemic could cause nearly 200,000 additional stillbirths over a 12-month period in 117 low- and middle-income countries.
The vast majority of stillbirths–84%–occur in low- and lower-middle-income countries. In 2019, three in four stillbirths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa or Southern Asia.
India, Pakistan and Nigeria alone accounted for a third of the total stillbirths and 27% of live births, it said. A stillbirth has been defined as a baby born with no signs of life at 28 weeks of pregnancy or more.
This corresponds to an increase in the number of stillbirths by 11.1%. According to modelling done for the report by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 13 countries could see a 20% increase or more in the number of stillbirths over a 12-month period, the report said.
Most stillbirths are due to poor quality of care during pregnancy and birth. Lack of investments in ante-natal and intra-partum services and in strengthening the nursing and midwifery workforce are key challenges, the report pointed out.
National stillbirth rates around the world ranged from 1.4-32.2 per 1,000 total births in 2019. Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Southern Asia, had the highest rate and the greatest number of stillbirths.
“Even before the pandemic caused critical disruptions in health services, few women in low- and middle-income countries received timely and high-quality care to prevent stillbirths,” the report said.
“Covid-19 has triggered a devastating secondary health crisis for women, children and adolescents due to disruptions in life-saving health services. Pregnant women need continued access to quality care, throughout their pregnancy and during childbirth,” said Muhammad Ali Pate, global director for health, nutrition and population at the World Bank and Director of the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents.