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Saving the lives of mothers and babies in Somalia

As delegates come together for an international conference on Somalia, a new report shows that the country is the most dangerous place for a child to be born.

In the 2013 edition of its ‘State of the World’s Mothers’ report, Save the Children records that Somalia is the riskiest place for a new baby. Somalia has the world’s highest rate of first-day deaths among newborns (18 per 1,000 live births). Due to lack of proper health care services and trained birth assistants, the picture is generally bleak across sub-Saharan Africa, where babies are seven times more likely to die on the day of their birth than infants in industrialised countries.

The day of birth is also a highly risky time for mothers, with about half of all maternal deaths worldwide occurring within one day of childbirth. In Somalia, new mothers are particularly vulnerable and the country is second to bottom in the mother’s index rankings (one place ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo). In Somalia, 1 woman in every 16 is likely to die either in pregnancy or childbirth.

Save the Children is lobbying for investment in interventions which would help to reduce the death toll in developing countries like Somalia. These would include the provision of injectable antibiotics to treat sepsis and pneumonia in newborns, resuscitation devices and antiseptic to clean the cut umbilical cord to prevent fatal infections. More skilled birth attendants are also key to reducing deaths among mothers and babies.

Improving health services is one of the main priorities for the new Somali government. Last month, ministers announced that infants would soon begin to receive the new five-in-one vaccine with the support of the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. However, officials know that reaching children across the country, with its lack of infrastructure and frequent roadblocks, will prove hugely challenging. For example, even when aid agency workers travel with their own security, they face being targeted for searches by local militia or kidnapping.

At the conference, David Cameron urged the international community to help support Somalia in rebuilding the country’s security and services as it moves ahead. He spoke about the changes in Somalia which were already happening thanks to “the vision of president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his team” and also paid tribute to the “strength and courage of the Somali people in beginning the long and difficult task of rebuilding their country from the bottom up”.

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