HONG KONG, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Far fewer newborn babies in China are dying compared to 15 years ago, researchers reported on Friday, underscoring the success of a Chinese programme to encourage women to deliver in hospitals rather than at home.
Deaths among newborn babies fell 62 percent to 9.3 for every 1,000 live births in 2008, compared to 24.7 in 1996, they wrote in a paper published in The Lancet medical journal.
This improved figure puts China nearly on a par with Thailand at 8, Sri Lanka at 9 and Venezuela at 10. Advanced countries typically have much lower figures, such as 3 in Britain, 4 in the United States and 1 in Singapore, according to the United Nation's Children's Fund.
Led by Xing Linfeng and Yan Guo from Peking University in Beijing and Carine Ronsmans from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, the researchers analysed data from 37 Chinese urban districts and 79 rural counties.
While less than half of all women in China gave birth in hospital in 1988, hospital births had become almost universal by 2008 with the exception of women in the least developed rural areas, they found.
However, some disparity still remained as babies born in hospitals in poorer rural areas were four times more likely to die than babies born in urban hospitals.
"Although most county-level or higher-level hospitals can deliver the elements of skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care that are essential to ensure neonatal survival ... many township hospitals do not fulfil these criteria," the researchers wrote.
An abstract of the paper can be found at: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61096-9/abstract (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn)