More newborns dying in West and Central Africa as world "fails poorest babies"

A week old baby lies in one of the ICU bays at one of the Norton Children's Hospital neonatal intensive care units in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo, in Louisville, Ky. (AP)
Updated 20 February 2018
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More newborns dying in West and Central Africa as world "fails poorest babies"

WASHINGTON: Babies born in the world’s poorest countries, most of them in Africa, still face “alarming” risks of death that can be 50 times as high as those in the richest countries, according to a UNICEF report released Tuesday.
While the last quarter-century has seen broad improvements in older children’s health, “we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director.
“Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”
The differences are stark. A baby born in Pakistan — the country with the worst newborn mortality rate — faced a one in 22 chance of death, while a newborn in Japan had only a one in 1,111 risk of dying, the report said.
Of the 10 highest-risk countries, eight are in sub-Saharan Africa, countries where “pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance,” due to poverty, conflict or weak institutions, according to the report.
Those eight countries are the Central African Republic (a one in 24 chance of death); Somalia, Lesotho, Guinea-Bissau and South Sudan (all with a one in 26 chance); Cote d’Ivoire (one in 27) and Mali and Chad (both with a one in 28 chance).
Each year, some 2.6 million babies do not survive through their first month.

The report was released in conjunction with the launch of a global campaign, called Every Child Alive, aimed at ensuring “affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and newborn.”
More than 80 percent of newborn deaths can be prevented, the report says, “with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.”
But shortages of properly trained health workers and midwives are a major problem in poorer nations.
While a rich country like Norway has 18 doctors, nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people, impoverished Somalia has only one.
Every year, one million babies die the day they are born.
“We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions,” Fore said.

In general, babies born in richer countries fare far better, but there are differences within countries. Babies born to the poorest families are 40 percent more likely to die than those born to the least poor.
Sadly typical was the story of Mary James, an 18-year-old from rural Malawi.
When her labor started, she and her sister made the long trek to a health center on foot. When her baby was delivered, he was small and terribly weak. She says an overstretched staff did its best, but by night the child was gone.
“I felt like my heart was breaking,” James told UNICEF staff. “I had a name for the child but he never opened his eyes.”
Since improvements to health care can be expensive, “it is crucial to invest the money in a smart way,” UNICEF’s global maternity and newborn program chief Willibald Zeck told AFP.
That can mean something as simple as ensuring that a pregnant woman who has walked three days to a health care facility is received with “dignity,” so she remains long enough to receive proper postnatal care.
But the dearth of expensive equipment matters. Zeck, who worked as an obstetrician/gynecologist in Tanzania, said women were often unsure how pregnant they were, and he would have to use his hands to estimate whether a fetus was premature or seriously underweight.
Still, among countries that have made dramatic improvements is low-income Rwanda, which more than halved its rate from 1990 to 2016, illustrating that “political will to invest in strong health systems... is critical,” the report said.
Education matters, too. Babies born to mothers with no education face nearly twice the risk of early death as babies whose mothers have at least a secondary education.
The United States — generally affluent, but with considerable income inequality and wide variations in access to health care — was only the 41st safest country for newborns.
The countries with the lowest newborn mortality rates, after Japan, are mostly well-off countries with strong education and health care systems: Iceland (a one in 1,000 chance of death), Singapore (one in 909), Finland (one in 833), Estonia and Slovenia (both one in 769), Cyprus (one in 714) and Belarus, Luxembourg, Norway and South Korea (all with risks of one in 667).


Consultations underway to choose new TTP chief

Updated 18 June 2018
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Consultations underway to choose new TTP chief

  • Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan lost its chief Mullah Fazlullah along with four guards last week when a US drone fired on his vehicle after he attended an 'iftar' party
  • Members of the TTP "shoura" have been involved in consultations since the death of Fazlullah to name a new commander

ISLAMABAD: Senior Pakistani Taliban leaders have been in hectic consultations over the past few days to appoint their new chief after a US spy aircraft killed the group’s chief, Mullah Fazlullah, in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, locals and journalists told Arab News.
Fazlullah was killed along with his four guards on June 13 when a drone fired missiles on his vehicle shortly after he attended an “iftar” party at the center of the Taliban militants from Swat valley based in Kunar’s Marora district.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed the death of Fazlullah, who had led a violent campaign against security forces in Swat until 2009, and later appeared in Afghanistan, where he had regrouped his fighters. The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, however, has not yet confirmed the leader’s death.
A senior journalist from Waziristan, who extensively reports on the Pakistani Taliban, has confirmed that the Taliban are involved in consultations to appoint a new leader.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, an expert on Taliban affairs who writes for international media, said on Monday the Taliban leaders are delaying the announcement of Fazlullah’s death before the appointment of his successor to avoid any internal rift.
“Huge divisions surfaced following the death of previous TTP leader Ameer Hakimulllah Mehsud in a US drone strike. The rift resulted in the killing of dozens of Taliban from the Sajna and Sheharyar Mehsud factions,” Tipu told Arab News.
Hakimullah was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on Nov. 1, 2013. Taliban militants from the Mehsud factions involved in fighting after Hakimullah’s death and infighting had reportedly claimed lives of nearly 200 people from both sides.
Members of the TTP "shoura" have been involved in consultations since the death of Fazlullah to name a new commander but have not yet reached a consensus on who should lead the group.
“Discussions have been held about three candidates — Omar Rehman, known as Ustad Fateh (Swat), Sheikh Khalid Haqqani (Swabi) and Zahid Qari (Bajaur),” another source close to the Taliban told Arab News.
Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, alias Abu Asim, the TTP deputy chief and Mohammed Azeem, alias Maulvi Khatir, who heads the Mehsud faction of the Taliban, are also among the possible candidates. Both are from South Waziristan.
Earlier it was reported that the TTP’s "shoura" elected Fateh, a close confidant of Fazlullah, as their new chief.
A senior journalist in South Waziristan, Ishtiaq Mehsud, disagreed with the reports about the appointment of Ustad Fateh as the TTP new leader and insisted that consultations were still underway.
Ishtiaq said that the delay to name the new chief was not because of TTP’s differences but because the commanders faced difficulties in contacting each other as they live in different areas.
“There are no differences in the TTP’s ranks and according to my information the majority of the commanders are in favor of Mufti Noor Wali to lead the group,” Ishtiaq told Arab News.
Wali, author of “Inquilab Mehsud,” was appointed deputy TTP chief after a US drone killed Khan Said Sajna in February this year. He previously headed the powerful Mehsud Taliban.
Mohammed Khorasani, the TTP spokesman, did not reply to several emails from Arab News about the death and the consultation process to name the new chief.