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Sub-Sahara Africa leads in infant deaths

Daily Nation
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

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Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sierra Leone and Somalia have some of the highest newborn death rates in the world.

The Birth Day Risk Index in the annual State of the World’s Mothers report shows that sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the most dangerous region to be born.

Globally, one million babies die each year on the day they enter the world — or two every minute — making the first day by far the riskiest day of a person’s life in almost every country.

The report identified key factors contributing to these high levels of newborn deaths in Africa. These include high rates of premature birth — Malawi has the highest rate of babies born early — as well as many babies born too small. More than a third of babies in Mauritania are underweight.

Other factors include the poor health of mothers, early marriage before girls’ bodies have properly matured, low rates of contraceptive usage and healthcare.

A severe shortage of health workers in many countries, combined with the long distances many women have to travel or medical attention, results in only half of all women across sub-Saharan Africa actually receiving skilled care at all.

More than one million babies are estimated to die each year on the first day of their lives and in 2011, over a quarter of a million women (287,000) died during pregnancy or childbirth.

The report shows us the startling inequality that mothers and children face on that first day. A woman or girl in DRC has a one in 30 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth — but in Finland the risk is one in 12,200.

Equally, a child born in Somalia is 35 times less likely to survive their first day than a child in Sweden or Singapore.

It would be easy to say that this is a ‘developing country problem’. Yet, our report finds that a country’s income alone is not enough to guarantee survival.

India, despite its dramatic economic growth, has high rates of newborn mortality — 11 births in every 1,000 results in the death of a baby on the day he or she is born.

In many countries, the mortality gap between rich and poor has widened despite falling national rates. Equally, countries like Rwanda, Malawi, Bangladesh and Nepal have made great strides against enormous odds.

All four countries are on track to meet the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing child deaths by two-thirds.

The barriers that hold us back are of our own making: insufficient investments by governments and donors in maternal and newborn care, major gaps in the provision of healthcare services, and a global shortfall of 350,000 midwives; poor nutrition of mothers and early marriage, which results in girls giving birth when their bodies are not ready for safe delivery. Save the Children calls on world leaders to:

  • Strengthen health systems so mothers have access to skilled birth attendants
  • Fight the underlying causes of newborn mortality
  • Invest in low-cost solutions that can dramatically reduce newborn mortality.

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