Each year more than one million babies in sub-Saharan Africa die before they are a month old because of a lack of essential health care, a U.N. report said on Wednesday.
“Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most dangerous region in the world for a baby to be born —with 1.16 million babies dying each year in the first 28 days of life,” said the report published, in Johannesburg and Geneva.
The document, drafted by nine agencies including the World Health Organization, said six countries in the region had made progress in improving care, reducing neonatal deaths by about 30 percent in the past decade.
“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,” said co-editor Joy Lawn.
Up to half a million African babies die on the day they are born, with Liberia having the world’s highest neonatal mortality rate at 66 deaths per 1,000 births, compared with fewer than two deaths for 1,000 births in Japan.
Half of Africa’s 1.16 million neonatal deaths occur in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, the report said.
Progress in basic health care
Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda had made significant progress in reducing infant deaths over the last 10 years, thanks to increased government spending on basic health care.
The report said opportunities to save the lives of newborns within existing programs were often missed, with only one-tenth of women in Africa attending antenatal care receiving preventive treatment for malaria.
Only one percent of mothers with HIV had treatment to avoid transmitting the virus to their babies during childbirth.
“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, adding this would cost about $1 billion per year.
The United Nations said in October that more than 18 million children in Africa would be orphaned by HIV/AIDS by the end of the decade if more was not done to combat the pandemic among the continent’s overwhelmingly young population.