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).


UK Conservatives to pick final 2 contenders for prime minister

Updated 10 min 34 sec ago
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UK Conservatives to pick final 2 contenders for prime minister

  • Tory lawmakers will vote to eliminate two contenders from a four-strong field
  • All the candidates are vowing to lead Britain out of the European Union, a challenge that defeated outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May

LONDON: Britain’s governing Conservatives were set to pick two candidates Thursday who will square off to become the country’s next prime minister.
Tory lawmakers will vote to eliminate two contenders from a four-strong field that includes ex-foreign minister and London mayor Boris Johnson, current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Johnson has a commanding lead after three rounds of voting that cut the list from an initial 10 contenders. The three others are battling to join him in a runoff to be decided by 160,000 Conservative Party members nationwide.
All the candidates are vowing to lead Britain out of the European Union, a challenge that defeated outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. She quit as Conservative leader earlier this month after failing to win Parliament’s backing for her Brexit deal.
The winner of the contest, due to be announced the week of July 22, will become Conservative leader and prime minister.
Many in the party doubt that anyone can beat Johnson, a quick-witted, Latin-spouting extrovert admired for his ability to connect with voters, but mistrusted for his erratic performance, and record of inaccurate and sometimes offensive comments.
Hunt is considered an experienced and competent minister, but unexciting. Gove is the sharpest performer and could come out best in head-to-head debates with Johnson, his longstanding frenemy. The two men led the “leave” campaign Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, but later fell out.
Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, says he offers a common-man alternative to private school-educated rivals like Johnson and Hunt, although he was a highly paid investment banker before entering politics.
Brexit, originally scheduled to take place on March 29, has been postponed twice amid political deadlock in London. The candidates differ on how they plan to end the impasse.
Johnson has won backing from the party’s die-hard Brexiteers by insisting the UK must leave the bloc on the rescheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way.
Javid, like Johnson, says he would try to leave the EU without an agreement rather than delay Brexit beyond Oct. 31. Gove and Hunt both say they would seek another postponement if needed to secure a deal, but only for a short time.
Critics say none of the candidates’ plans is realistic.
The EU is adamant that it won’t reopen the Brexit agreement it struck with May’s government, which has been rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. Many economists and businesses warn that leaving without a deal on divorce terms and future relations would cause economic turmoil as tariffs and other disruptions are imposed on trade between Britain and the EU.
UK Treasury chief Philip Hammond warned Thursday that a no-deal Brexit would put Britain’s prosperity at risk and leave the economy “permanently smaller.”
“The question to the candidates is not ‘What is your plan?’ but ‘What is your plan B?’ Hammond said in extracts from a speech he is giving later in the day.”