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28 days of life 28 days of life
by Amin George Forji
2006-12-01 10:48:19
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) in partnership with nine other organizations released 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 baby to be born, with 1.16 million babies dying each year in the first 28 days of life.

Given the rate of poverty across the continent, the report may have not taken anyone by too much surprise, but it was worth highlighting. As Dr. Joy Lawn, one of the co-editors of the report, who lives and works in Africa for Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children-US said, “Good news does come out of Africa.” He was lamenting the degree of infant mortality in the continent, with up to half a million babies dying on the same day of birth, most of which is never counted. Many women in rural Africa receive little or no maternal care, and give birth at home.

The study used the example of six poor African countries that made significant relatively successful progress during the last ten years, by increasing spending on basic health care, said that their findings revealed that even with just cheap means, the rate of infant mortality across the continent will 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.

Elizabeth Mason, one of the co-editors of the partnership, identified some of these interventions to include: Women and babies receiving basic care during pregnancy, immunizing women against tetanus preventing 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.

She estimated that it will cost almost $1 billion a year to save the lives of the newborn 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. Joy Lawn said in Geneva during the launching 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. She did this by annually ranking district health services across the country and publishing the results in local tabloids.

Burkina Faso on her part has exempted poor women from paying anything in the emergency caesarean section of her clinics. The government of Tanzania on her part has consistently set local budget priority clinics in districts that record highest deaths in a year. Eritrea, said to have made the best improvement, have 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 epi-center 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.”


   
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