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Report: Basic Healthcare Could Save Lives of 800,000 African Newborns Each Year

International health experts have released a new report saying that basic healthcare, such as regular checkups before and after birth, as well as community-based programs could save the lives of nearly 800,000 newborns in Africa each year. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington.

Save the Children's official Anne Tinker says about one million newborns die in Africa each year. That is the same number as all the babies born last year in South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

Tinker says poor post-natal care leads to nearly half of these deaths occuring within the first 24 hours after birth. "Babies need immediate and exclusive breast-feeding. They need drying and warming. They need care for managing or preventing infection. And some babies are born with birth asphyxia, which means they're not breathing properly and they need resuscitation," she said.

And according to Tinker's organization, in partnership with several other international agencies, nearly two thirds of these deaths are preventable.

In a new report released Friday, the groups say the key to prevention is a reliable national system to provide trained health professionals and promote routine checkups.

However, the Academy for Educational Development's Doyin Oluwole says many of these reliable resources are located far away from families. "African women are not stupid. They know good quality service. They know poor quality service. When the service is of poor quality -- even though it may be next-door to them -- they don't use it," she said.

But Oluwole emphasizes the importance of community involvement. She mentions one example of how daily newspapers in Uganda list newborn mortality rates from different districts. "It has become a healthy competition between districts because nobody wants to be said to be the worst. That's a healthy competition, but it also keeps government aware. It also keeps the population aware. Our babies are dying -- what must we do? It becomes everybody's responsibility," she said.

And Oluwole says joint action among families, communities and governments will make the difference in saving lives.