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).


Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

Updated 15 December 2018
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Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

  • Trilateral talks also focused on boosting trust and security between the three countries
  • FM Qureshi extends the olive branch for a new chapter with Kabul

KABUL: Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China held a trilateral meeting in Kabul on Saturday where they discussed measures to boost political trust and join hands for a regional war against militancy which would facilitate the Afghan peace process, even as Taliban insurgents stepped up their attacks.

The meeting was the second one to take place after Beijing had initiated the talks in December last year in order to ease the rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad whose relationship is highly critical for Beijing’s growing economic and political clout in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent years, China has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan and is actively using its influence to bring the two South Asian neighbors closer.

Pakistan has long been accused by Afghanistan and the US of providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban leaders, by funding and arming them since their ouster in late 2001.

Islamabad has denied the allegations.

After the meeting on Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pushed for a new chapter with Afghanistan, adding that the ongoing blame game would not help in achieving peace or building trust between Islamabad and Kabul.

He said that the Daesh and militants from Central Asia and eastern China were against the peace process in Afghanistan, urging for joint efforts to tackle the extremism.

“I am here to engage with Afghanistan. Let us not stick to the past and stop pointing a finger on Pakistan… I came here to build trust and bridges and reach peace and stability. Any improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The three countries signed an agreement pushing for joint efforts in the war against militancy with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying that the coming weeks and months will be highly crucial in evaluating Pakistan’s intentions and its role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan have held a number of meetings in recent years to mend bilateral ties and work towards measures to fight militancy. However, those talks were an exercise in futility as they were followed by the two countries trading accusations and resorting to the blame game. Rabbani said that “the time has come (for Pakistan) to practically show with genuine steps” that it will fulfill its pledges.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described both Afghanistan and Pakistan as its strategic partners, adding that China had great political trust in the two. He asked both the countries to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner and backed the US’ efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, urging the militant group to get involved in the process. 

“We support Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efforts for peace and we call on the Taliban to join the peace process. Cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China is important to bring peace to Afghanistan.” 

The three sides emphasized the importance of regional connectivity and economic development between them. 

Saturday’s meeting took place at a time when Washington is stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban by meeting with regional powers on how to end the US war in Afghanistan which began more than 17 years ago.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former Afghan diplomat, said that a deciding factor for Saturday’s agreement to work depended on building mutual trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan given the fact that similar conversations have taken place between Kabul and Islamabad earlier as well, without bearing any fruit.

However, at the same time, he was optimistic about positive results, reasoning that the situation had changed when compared to the past with the US increasing its efforts for talks with the Taliban.

“Such meetings can be helpful in mending ties between the countries and in helping them come closer to achieving a peace plan,” he told Arab News.