By David Akana
Babies have a better chance of survival in Africa today than they did just a decade ago.
For instance, since 2000, survival rates have risen for children born inEgypt, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Niger, Liberia, Malawi, Zambiaand Madagascar, according to new statistics from the World Health Organization.
At the start of the millennium, of every 1,000 babies born in African, 98 died before their first birthday. By 2009, the continent’s infant mortality rate had fallen to 80 deaths per thousand.
However, infant mortality in Africa is still higher than the global rate of 42 deaths per thousand. In such African countries as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 120 of every 1,000 children die before age 1 – and those numbers haven’t improved in recent decades. In contrast, several African nations have made significant progress in reducing infant mortality in the past 10 years:
Liberia‘s infant mortality rate has plunged 40 percent, from 133 deaths per thousand to 80 deaths per thousand.
Madagascar‘s rate has fallen 38 percent, from 65 deaths per thousand to 40 deaths per thousand.
Namibia’s infant mortality rate dropped 32 percent, from 50 deaths per thousand to 34 deaths per thousand.
Niger‘s infant mortality rate has dropped 29 percent, from 107 deaths per thousand to 76 deaths per thousand.
Progress also can be seen in Sierra Leone, which in 2000 had the world’s highest infant mortality rate: 150 deaths per 1,000 births. Since then, the rate has dropped 18 percent, to 123 deaths per thousand. That means that, of every 1,000 births, an additional 27 children live at least until their first birthday.
"Many believe that some of the building blocks for a successful war against high maternal and infant mortality rates are present in Sierra Leone: commitment at the highest level in government; adequate funding, at least in the short-term; and some level of momentum in the public health care system (as opposed to decades of inertia)," said Vijay Pillai, the World Bank’s representative to Sierra Leone in a recent blog posting.
Like Sierra Leone, Rwanda also stepped up its fight against infant mortality. The death rate there has declined 35 percent over the past decade, to 70 deaths per thousand.
Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s minister of public health, said infant mortality in her country has been reduced by training traditional birth attendants in remote areas to take care of women giving birth at home.
"Since 2010, the Rwandan government has purchased 73 ambulances, one for each district hospital across the country, to ensure that pregnant women in remote areas have access to emergency care," Binagwaho said.
"Other efforts to reduce infant mortality have included large-scale immunization campaign against a number of infant killer diseases such as measles and tuberculosis."
While commendable progress has been made across Africa, countries like Chad and Congo still have much work to do to give babies a chance to celebrate their first anniversary. In both countries, infant mortality is worse now than 10 years ago. Congo, for instance, has registered an 8 percent increase in infant mortality over the past decade; its rate now stands at 80 deaths per thousand.
Experts attribute infant mortality in Africa to a variety of factors. Chief among them are malnutrition, unavailability of safe drinking water, shortage of child and maternal health services, shortage of medication and lack of immunization.
Here is the data used in this article. We also have provided an interactive map on infant mortality.