Background: To provide evidence on the global epidemiological situation of neonatal hypothermia and to provide recommendations for future policy and research directions.
Methods: Using PubMed as our principal electronic reference library, we searched studies for prevalence and risk factor data on neonatal hypothermia in resource-limited environments globally. Studies specifying study location, setting (hospital or community based), sample size, case definition of body temperature for hypothermia, temperature measurement method, and point estimates for hypothermia prevalence were eligible for inclusion.
Results: Hypothermia is common in infants born at hospitals (prevalence range, 32% to 85%) and homes (prevalence range, 11% to 92%), even in tropical environments. The lack of thermal protection is still an underappreciated major challenge for newborn survival in developing countries. Although hypothermia is rarely a direct cause of death, it contributes to a substantial proportion of neonatal mortality globally, mostly as a comorbidity of severe neonatal infections, preterm birth, and asphyxia. Thresholds for the definition of hypothermia vary, and data on its prevalence in neonates is scarce, particularly on a community level in Africa.
Conclusions: A standardized approach to the collection and analysis of hypothermia data in existing newborn programs and studies is needed to inform policy and program planners on optimal thermal protection interventions. Thermoprotective behavior changes such as skin-to-skin care or the use of appropriate devices have not yet been scaled up globally. The introduction of simple hypothermia prevention messages and interventions into evidence-based, cost-effective packages for maternal and newborn care has promising potential to decrease the heavy global burden of newborn deaths attributable to severe infections, prematurity, and asphyxia. Because preventing and treating newborn hypothermia in health institutions and communities is relatively easy, addressing this widespread challenge might play a substantial role in reaching Millennium Development Goal 4, a reduction of child mortality.