Causes of preterm and low birth weight neonatal mortality in a rural community in Kenya: evidence from verbal and social autopsy

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Background: Under-five mortality in Kenya has declined over the past two decades. However, the reduction in the neonatal mortality rate has remained stagnant. In a country with weak civil registration and vital statistics systems, there is an evident gap in documentation of mortality and its causes among low birth weight (LBW) and preterm neonates. We aimed to establish causes of neonatal LBW and preterm mortality in Migori County, among participants of the PTBI-K (Preterm Birth Initiative-Kenya) study.

Methods: Verbal and social autopsy (VASA) interviews were conducted with caregivers of deceased LBW and preterm neonates delivered within selected 17 health facilities in Migori County, Kenya. The probable cause of death was assigned using the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).

Results: Between January 2017 to December 2018, 3175 babies were born preterm or LBW, and 164 (5.1%) died in the first 28 days of life. VASA was conducted among 88 (53.7%) of the neonatal deaths. Almost half (38, 43.2%) of the deaths occurred within the first 24 h of life. Birth asphyxia (45.5%), neonatal sepsis (26.1%), respiratory distress syndrome (12.5%) and hypothermia (11.0%) were the leading causes of death. In the early neonatal period, majority (54.3%) of the neonates succumbed to asphyxia while in the late neonatal period majority (66.7%) succumbed to sepsis. Delay in seeking medical care was reported for 4 (5.8%) of the neonatal deaths.

Conclusion: Deaths among LBW and preterm neonates occur early in life due to preventable causes. This calls for enhanced implementation of existing facility-based intrapartum and immediate postpartum care interventions, targeting asphyxia, sepsis, respiratory distress syndrome and hypothermia.

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