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28 days to save a life

[Angola] Angolan women and children queue for tetanus shots.
Des Angolais font la queue au point de vaccination contre le tétanos (photo d’archives) (IRIN)

More than 1,500 babies born on any given day in sub-Saharan Africa will die within 24 hours, according to a recent report by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the non-profit Save the Children, which measured African government’s progress on improving child health.

Twenty-five percent of all child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa — which equals more than 1 million a year — take place during the first 28 days of life, according to Adrian Lovett, a director in Save the Children’s London office. “Throughout the developing world, the most dangerous day in a child’s life is the day the child is born,” he said in a statement for the Day of the African Child.

Birthing complications and infections responsible for the majority of these deaths are preventable, according to the UN. Neonatal tetanus, one major infant killer, can be prevented with a vaccine that costs 50 US cents, according to a multiagency study conducted in 2006 that also found that improved community and family care could decrease infant deaths by one-third.

Antibiotics to treat pneumonia – estimated  by World Health Organization (WHO) to kill more than 900,000 people annually – cost less than one dollar per patient.

Improved diagnoses and the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets have helped reduce malaria deaths, estimated by WHO to kill 800,000 in 2007. But only 8 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa sleep under treated nets, which cost approximately US$10 each.

If 95 percent of residents in malaria endemic countries slept under nets, 570,000 lives could be saved, according to the UN.

Save the Children’s Lovett said world leaders are falling behind on their promises to reduce under-five child deaths by two-thirds by the year 2015, one of eight Millennium Development Goals.  “If world leaders did not fulfil promises during better economic times, it is a challenge to enforce these promises in the middle of a recession,” Lovett told IRIN.

As governments face falling remittances, revenues and a potential loss of aid dollars, health budgets may be at risk, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

The UN and Save the Children calculate 800,000 lives can be saved with $1.3 billion investment in immunisations, as well as newborn and infectious disease care.


Since introducing newborn care techniques to government hospitals in 2001, neonatal clinic director Houleymata Diarra in Mali’s capital, Bamako, told IRIN infant deaths have fallen from 57 per 1,000 live births to 46.

Botswana has halved its under-five mortality rate since 2000, in part through universal HIV testing, according to the UN.

Reducing malnutrition – responsible for more than one-third of infant deaths according to UNICEF – has also helped. In a recent independent report on fighting malnutrition, improved breastfeeding practices in Tanzania and Uganda have helped to reduce stunting by up to 2 percent a year.

But despite these and other countries’ progress, half the world’s under-five deaths still occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Save the Children’s Lovett.

He said that just as world leaders have acted to rescue banks and protect key industries, they need to apply the same urgency to saving Africa’s babies and children.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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