Published On: Tue, Jan 2nd, 2018

New Year: Helping newborns survive first days of life

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By Ese Awhotu

As we celebrate the New Year 2018, having passed through the challenges of 2017 which have been described by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, as the worst in the history of the country, safety of children especially newborns and the Internally Displaced Children have somehow taken centre stage.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that nearly 386,000 babies will be born on New Year’s Day(yesterday), some 90 per cent in less developed regions.
UNICEF has therefore challenged nations around the world to make sure more newborns survive their first days of life.
This is just as the Speaker of the House of Representative; Hon Yakubu Dogara has also called for support, more care and interventions for children in Internally Displaced Persons Camps, IDPs camps across the country.
Stefan Peterson, UNICEF’s Chief of Health, said yesterday, that, “This New Year, UNICEF’s resolution is to help give every child more than an hour, more than a day, more than a month – more than survival,”
The agency reported that Kiribati’s Christmas Island in the Pacific would most likely welcome 2018’s first baby; the United States, its last. Globally, over half of these births are estimated to take place in nine countries: India – 69,070, China – 44,760, Nigeria – 20,210, Pakistan – 14,910, Indonesia – 13,370, United States – 11,280, Democratic Republic of Congo – 9,400, Ethiopia – 9,020 and Bangladesh – 8,370
According to UNICEF in a release posted on UN News Centre website, while many babies will survive, some will not make it past their first day.
The agency noted that, in 2016, an estimated 2,600 children died within the first 24 hours every day of the year.
UNICEF said that for almost two million newborns, their first week was also their last.
In all, 2.6 million children died before the end of their first month. Among those children, more than 80 per cent died from preventable and treatable causes such as premature birth, complications during delivery, and infections like sepsis and pneumonia.
“We call on governments and partners to join the fight to save millions of children’s lives by providing proven, low-cost solutions,” said Mr. Peterson.
UNICEF, however points out that, “Over the past two decades, the world has seen unprecedented progress in child survival, halving the number of children worldwide who die before their fifth birthday to 5.6 million in 2016. But despite these advances, there has been slower progress for newborns. Babies dying in the first month account for 46 per cent of all deaths among children under five.”
The UN agency, said next month, it will launch ‘Every Child Alive,’ a global campaign to demand and deliver affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and newborn. These include a steady supply of clean water and electricity at health facilities, the presence of a skilled health attendant during birth, disinfecting the umbilical cord, breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, and skin-to-skin contact between the mother and child.
“We are now entering the era when the entire world’s newborns should have the opportunity to see the 22nd century,” added Mr. Peterson, but unfortunately, nearly half of the children born this year likely will not. “A child born in Sweden in January 2018 is most likely to live to 2100, while a child from Somalia would be unlikely to live beyond 2075,” he lamented.
Available data indicates that every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age.
This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world.
UNICEF notes that underneath the statistics lies the pain of human tragedy, for thousands of families who have lost their children. Even more devastating is the knowledge that, according to recent research, essential interventions reaching women and babies on time would have averted most of these deaths.
The consequences of this trend were the inability of the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child mortality by a third by 2015.
Preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria.
Malnutrition is the underlying cause of morbidity and mortality of a large proportion of children under-5 in Nigeria. It accounts for more than 50 per cent of deaths of children in this age bracket.
The deaths of newborn babies in Nigeria represent a quarter of the total number of deaths of children under-five. The majority of these occur within the first week of life, mainly due to complications during pregnancy and delivery reflecting the intimate link between newborn survival and the quality of maternal care. Main causes of neonatal deaths are birth asphyxia, severe infection including tetanus and premature birth.
Similarly, a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria is 1 in 13. Although many of these deaths are preventable, the coverage and quality of health care services in Nigeria continue to fail women and children. Presently, less than 20 per cent of health facilities offer emergency obstetric care and only 35 per cent of deliveries are attended by skilled birth attendants.
This shows the close relationship between the well being of the mother and the child, and justifies the need to integrate maternal, newborn and child health interventions.
It is important to note that wide regional disparities exist in child health indicators with the North-East and North-West geopolitical zones of the country having the worst child survival figures.
UNICEF research findings and observations cannot be waved aside in 2018, Nigeria must take concerted steps to address its huge child survival challenges.
Stakeholders have advised that for Nigeria to curtail its newborn death challenges, it must first tackle its economic problems to allow huge funding for the health sector as well as create enabling environments for health workers and access to health facilities. For instance the insurgency problem in the North East and other insecurity challenges such as herders/ farmers clashes, Shi’ite issue, militancy in the Niger Delta which have been a drain on the nations resources have to be adequately tackled.
The need for unity and love among communities in the country has also been underscored.
This issue of unity among communities has also been harped on by Nations Secretary-GeneralAntónio Guterres in his message on the New Year.
He called for unity among the global community to tackle overwhelming challenges and defend values shared by all.
“On New Year’s Day 2018, I am not issuing an appeal. I am issuing an alert – a red alert for our world,” said the Secretary-General.
“As we begin 2018, I call for unity, We can settle conflicts, overcome hatred and defend shared values. But we can only do that together,” he expressed.
Recalling that last year he urged that 2017 be a year for peace, the UN chief noted that unfortunately – in fundamental ways, the world went in reverse.
Perils, including deepening conflicts and new dangers emerged, and global concerns over nuclear weapons reached the highest since the Cold War, he added.
At the same time, impacts of climate change worsened at an alarming rate, inequalities grew and there were horrific violations of human rights.
“Nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise,” said Mr. Guterres.
Underscoring his belief that the world can be made more safe and secure, conflicts can be settled, hatred can be overcome and shared values defended, he emphasized that unity is indispensable to achieving these goals.
“Unity is the path. Our future depends on it,” said the Secretary-General, urging leaders everywhere to resolve in the New Year to: “Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals.”

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