Objective: Early neonatal mortality within the first 24 hours contributes substantially to overall neonatal mortality rates. The definition of birth asphyxia (BA) is imprecise, and reliable cause-specific mortality data are limited; thus the estimated proportion of BA-related deaths globally remains questionable. The objective was to determine the presumed causes of neonatal death within the first 24 hours in a rural hospital in Northern Tanzania.
Methods: This is a prospective descriptive observational study conducted in the delivery room and adjacent neonatal area. Research assistants were trained to observe and record events related to labor, neonatal resuscitation, and 24-hour postnatal course. BA was defined as failure to initiate spontaneous respirations and/or 5-minute Apgar score <7, prematurity as gestational age <36 weeks, and low birth weight (LBW) as birth weight <3rd centile for gestational age. Data were analyzed with χ(2) and Student's t tests.
Results: Over 1 year, 4720 infants were born and evaluated. Of these, 256 were admitted to the neonatal area. Forty-nine infants died secondary to BA (61%), prematurity (18%), LBW (8%), infection (2%), congenital abnormalities (8%), and unclear reason (2%). The 5-minute Apgar score was ≥7 in 50% of the infants who died secondary to BA.
Conclusions: Most cases of early neonatal mortality were related to BA, and prematurity and LBW are additional important considerations. Reducing perinatal mortality requires a multifaceted approach with attention to issues related to BA, potential complications of prematurity, and LBW. The 5-minute Apgar score is a poor surrogate of BA.