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Six African countries reporting progress in saving newborn lives.

As many as 500,000 African babies die on the day they are born, but a recent report found that six African countries are making strides in addressing the tragedy.

Released in late November by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, the report brings together new data and analysis from a team of 60 authors and nine international organizations from the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. According to the report, in six low-income African countries--Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania--health officials have made significant progress in reducing deaths among newborn babies.

"Good news does come out of Africa," said Joy Lawn, MD, who works in Africa for Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children and co-edited the report. "While 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 of more rapid progress to save Africa's children."

The six countries highlighted in the report had an average reduction of 29 percent in newborn deaths over the past decade. The reduction ranged from 20 percent in Tanzania to 47 percent in Eritrea. Factors that contributed to the progress included local budget priorities aimed at reducing child mortality, expanded basic public services and government coverage for caesarean section deliveries.

"The progress of these six African countries demonstrates that even the world's poorest countries can look after their newborns, their most vulnerable citizens," said Francicso Songane, MD, director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. "They have shown the way. We must seize the opportunity."

Two-thirds of newborn deaths in Africa could be avoided, according to an analysis in the report. While 500,000 babies die in Africa on the day they are born, an estimated 1.16 million die each year within their first 28 days of life. Low-cost interventions such as immunizing women against tetanus, providing a skilled attendant at each birth, treating newborn infections promptly and teaching mothers about hygiene, warmth and breastfeeding for infants would go a long way toward reducing newborn mortality, according to the report.

"The health of newborn babies has fallen between the cracks--Africa's unnamed, and uncounted, lost children," Songane said. "We must count newborn deaths and make them count, instead of accepting these deaths an inevitable."

The full report, "Opportunities for Africa's Newborns," is available from <www.who.int/pmnch>.
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Title Annotation:The GLOBE: Public health news from around the world
Publication:The Nation's Health
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:414
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