Research highlights needless death of a million babies

More than than a million newborn babies are dying needlessly every year around the world because of lack of care in their first month of their life, according to research.

Newborn deaths account for 40 per cent of all deaths of children under the age of five, according to Save the Children, who are today launching their "Every One" campaign to highlight this neglected health crisis.

There is a clear link between poverty and high rates of newborn deaths, but many could be avoided by simple hygiene improvements and changes in traditional practices, the report claims.

According to Afghan traditions, "in order to keep the devil away, the newborn must be placed on the floor until the mother discharges the placenta," the report reveals. "The umbilical cord is then cut with a razor and a shoe."

Troubled African nations such as Liberia and Angola are also among those with the highest neo-natal mortality rates – the number of deaths per 1,000 births inside the first 28 days of life.

In Liberia, which tops the survey, babies are fed water for the first three days because the early, yellowish breast milk is believed to be inadequate. Babies often develop diarrhoea as a consequence and families use herbal treatments.

In China, members of the Hani minority believe it is inauspicious to transport a woman in labour, resulting in a high number of hazardous home births.

Infant mortality rates, that is deaths before the age of one, are commonly used as an indicator of economic performance and development. But until now relatively little attention has been paid to the fact that most deaths occur in the first month of a baby's life.

"One third of [these] lives could be saved through improved family and community care alone, such as improved hygiene at birth," according to Save the Children.

The report highlights Cuba which despite its status as a low income country has just four deaths per 1,000 births, a rate that compares favourably with the wealthiest nations.

It also reveals a number of deadly maternal myths, such as the belief that mothers should not breastfeed until a baby has been sprinkled with magic water by a witch doctor, and the notion that tea and biscuits are the best food for the first month of a newborn's life.

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