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Background: Small and sick newborns need high quality specialised care within health facilities to address persistently high neonatal mortality in low-income settings, including Kenya. Methods: We examined neonatal admissions in 12 public-sector County (formerly District) hospitals in Kenya between November 2014 and November 2016. Using data abstracted from newborn unit (NBU) admission registers and paediatric ward (PW) medical records, we explore the magnitude and distribution of admissions. In addition, interviews with senior staff were conducted to understand admission policies for newborns in these facilities. Results: Of the total 80,666 paediatric admissions, 28,884 (35.8%) were aged ≤28 days old. 24,212 (83.8%) of newborns were admitted to organisationally distinct NBU and 4,672 (16.2%) to general PW, though the proportion admitted to NBUs varied substantially (range 59.9-99.0%) across hospitals, reflecting widely varying infrastructure and policies. Neonatal mortality was high in NBU (12%) and PW (11%), though varied widely across facilities, with documentation of outcomes poor for the NBU. Conclusion: Improving quality of care on NBUs would affect almost a third of paediatric admissions in Kenya. However, comprehensive policies and strategies are needed to ensure sick newborns on general PWs also receive appropriate care.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome Open Res

Publication Date





Africa, Kenya, Newborn health, facility-based care, global health, low-resourced settings, neonatal care, newborn mortality, paediatrics, small and sick newborns