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Infant Mortality In Africa Still Dire: WHO
New report identifies ways of preventing millions of baby deaths
Amin George Forji (amingeorge)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-23 18:39 (KST)   
The World Health Organization, in partnership with nine other organizations, released on Wednesday the results of their recent study on infant mortality in Africa in a report titled, "Opportunities for Africa's newborns." According to the findings, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most dangerous place in the world for a child to be born, with 1.16 million babies per year dying within a month of being born.

Given the rate of poverty across the continent, the WHO report may not come as a surprise, but the findings are stark and revealing.

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As Dr. Joy Lawn, one of the co-editors of the report, said, "good news does come out of Africa," but lamented the degree of infant mortality on the continent.

Each year in Africa up to half a million babies die on the day they are born, most of them are never counted. Many women in rural Africa receive little or no maternal care, and give birth at home.

The study, which used the example of changes in six African countries over the last 10 years, found that even with cheap improvements in basic healthcare the rate of infant mortality across the continent could be seriously overturned.

"Up to 800,000 babies a year could be saved if 90 percent of women and babies received feasible, low-cost health interventions," the report said.

Elizabeth Mason, from the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, identified some of these interventions to include: women and babies receiving basic care during pregnancy, immunizing women against tetanus to prevent neo-natal tetanus, providing a skilled attendant at birth, treating newborn infections promptly, and educating mothers about proper hygiene, keeping the baby warm, and exclusively breast-feeding their infant.

In a nutshell, she said, it will cost just $1 billion a year to save the lives of the newborns in Africa.

"Whilst the survival of the African child has shown almost no improvement since the 1980s, the fact that during 2006 several large African countries have reported a dramatic reduction in the risk of child deaths gives us new hope," Dr. Lawn said in Geneva at the launch of the report.

The six Sub Saharan African countries identified for making the progress are: Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Malawi, the world's second poorest country, for example, doubled the governmental budget on maternal newborn and child health.

In Uganda, the government used awareness to educate the populace and better allocate the scarce medical resources. The country did this by annually ranking district health services across the country and publishing the results in local tabloids.

Burkina Faso on its part has exempted poor women from paying anything for emergency Caesarean sections.

The government of Tanzania has consistently set local budget priority clinics in districts that record the highest deaths in a year.

Eritrea, said to have made the best improvement, has made a commitment to extending basic public health services to all its citizens.

Five countries, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda are identified in the report to be the epicenter of infant mortality, with half of the 1.16 million neonatal deaths occurring there.

Liberia is identified in the report to have the world's highest neonatal mortality rate of 66 deaths per 1,000 births.

"The health of newborn babies has fallen between the cracks -- Africa's un-named, and uncounted, lost children," said Dr. Francisco Songane, another co-director of the Partnership report.

"We must count newborn deaths and make them count, instead of accepting these deaths as inevitable. The progress of these six African countries demonstrates that even the world's poorest countries can look after their newborns, their most vulnerable citizens. They have shown the way -- we must seize the opportunity," Dr. Songane added.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amin George Forji

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