IN 2016 around 1m newborn babies took their last breath on the same day as their first. A further 1.6m didn’t survive a month, and 2.6m more were stillborn—half of whom were alive at the start of labour. Although the worldwide neonatal death rate (defined as living for no more than 28 days) has fallen during the past two decades, from 34 per 1,000 live births to 19, many countries still have worryingly high rates. Fortunately, a new report by UNICEF finds that a large share of these deaths are preventable, suggesting that plenty of additional improvement is possible. In around 80% of cases, either infections or complications during labour are the leading cause of death. 

The most dangerous country for infants is Pakistan, where one baby out of every 20 born dies within 28 days. In Japan, by contrast, the rate is one in 1,000. These extremes are reflective of a broader pattern: infant mortality is largely concentrated in the developing world. The average neonatal death rate per 1,000 births in low-income countries is 27; in their rich counterparts it is just three. Keeping babies alive does not require lavish spending: even countries that devote a modest $1,000 per person per year to health care are likely to suffer fewer than ten neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births. Nonetheless, that amount is well above what truly poor countries, primarily in Africa and Asia, can afford.