Neonatal hypothermia in low resource settings: a review

J Perinatol. 2009 Jun;29(6):401-12. doi: 10.1038/jp.2008.233. Epub 2009 Jan 22.


Background: Hypothermia is increasingly recognized as a major cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality in resource poor settings. High prevalence of hypothermia has been reported widely from warmer high mortality regions of Africa and South Asia. The World Health Organization recognizes newborn thermal care as a critical and essential component of essential newborn care; however, hypothermia continues to remain under-documented, under-recognized and under-managed.

Objective: This review aims to provide a thorough patho-physio-epidemiological discussion of neonatal hypothermia applied to local risk factors within the developing country context with particular emphasis on prevention, recognition and management.

Method: All available published literature on neonatal hypothermia relevant to resource poor settings were reviewed. Studies from the developing country settings were primarily reviewed for epidemiology, domiciliary risk factors as well as potential interventions for thermal care.

Result and discussion: Functional integrity and efficiency of biological systems is critically dependent on an optimal and very narrow range of core body temperature. Risk factors for neonatal hypothermia differ markedly within low resource settings. A combination of physiological, behavioral and environmental factors universally put all newborns, irrespective of birth weight, at risk of hypothermia. The knowledge deficit along the continuum from health providers to primary care givers has sustained the silent epidemic of hypothermia. The challenges of recognition, understanding of local risk factors and communication have meant a lack of informed thermal care for newborns. Simple, feasible interventions exist, but need to be applied, based on local risk factors that disrupt the warm chain. Further research is needed to document local risk factors, develop better techniques for recognition, evaluation of thermal care within essential newborn care and communication strategies for program effectiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / etiology
  • Hypothermia / physiopathology*
  • Hypothermia / prevention & control*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Postnatal Care / standards
  • Poverty Areas