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1m children die the day they are born, says UNICEF

Aljazeera

One million children die on the day they are born every year, with another 1.6 million unable to survive past the first month, the UN’s children’s agency said in a new report.

Newborns in Pakistan, Central African Republic (CAR) and Afghanistan have the least chance of survival, according to the UNICEF report launched on Tuesday.

More than 80 percent of newborn deaths are due to premature births, complications during birth or infections, the report adds, and these deaths can be prevented with access to good quality healthcare and nutrition, as well as clean water and adequate facilities.

“Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

Poverty, conflict, and weak institutions are being blamed for pregnant women and infants not receiving the assistance they need.

In Pakistan, one in 22 newborns does not live past the first month.

“There is a lack of a holistic approach,” Mubina Agboatwalla, chairperson of Health Oriented Preventive Education, told Al Jazeera.

“The deaths occur due to a number of causes, including home deliveries, anaemic mothers and poor sanitary conditions,” she added.

“Simple things like washing hands will reduce the mortality rate by half.”

Pakistan’s Tharparkar district has been the hardest hit when it comes to infant mortality.

More than 1,500 children under the age of five died in the southern district from 2011 to 2016. Almost 80 percent of births were underweight. The main cause, according to the doctors, was poverty and malnourishment.

Additionally, a lack of education and access to family planning for girls, early marriage and teen pregnancy play a big role in rising infant mortality rates, Agboatwalla said.

“These problems are swept under the carpet,” she explained.

“The girl is not mature enough to look after herself or the baby. Unless the girls are educated, they are unable to fathom the messages regarding preventive measures. Family planning, unfortunately, has lost its importance here.” In conflict-ridden CAR, one in 24 newborns meets the same fate.

Last year, the upsurge of violence in the country drove the number of internally displaced persons up to 688,700, the highest figure since the crisis began in 2013.

UNICEF says many women are unable to access healthcare due to the conflict.

Bangui, the country’s capital, has the only pediatric hospital in the country.

The free government hospital sees hundreds of patients daily. But, with limited medical supplies and a lack of staff, including specialists, the situation is far from satisfactory. Almost two out of every 30 children born in this hospital die every day.

“We are in a crisis. We have to equip health centres. This situation is not sustainable,” Gody Chrysostone, one of the five paediatricians in CAR, said.

Stefan Peterson, chief of UNICEF’s health section, pointed to the high number of early marriages and teenage pregnancies as one of the reasons behind mortality rates worldwide.

According to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership working to ending child marriage, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. More than 700 million women and girls alive today were married before they turned 18.

“These are high-risk pregnancies both for the mother and the baby,” Peterson said.

“Delaying pregnancy and making sure girls go to school is very important not just for the individuals and society but also helps in bringing mortality rates down.

“We’re launching a campaign to encourage governments to increase investment in health services. In many cases, when women have heeded the calls to come to health facilities to deliver, we fail them on quality of service provided.

“We want to reach a point where we no longer have children giving birth to children. Newborn deaths are very much avoidable and preventable.”

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