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Saving lives in Nigeria

I’m wrapping up my visit to Nigeria where I provided support to the health programme team.  We’re updating the Saving Newborn Lives report and I came over to research and develop content on maternal, newborn and child health.

The capital, Abuja, is sprawling and the skyline is dotted with tall buildings, a grand mosque and big churches.  The roads are wide and nice houses can be seen in the residential areas, giving an impression that all is well.

A visit to Kuje General Hospital in the outskirts of Abuja shows a different picture, however.  In the children’s ward, toddlers were recovering from measles, diarrhoea and malaria.  From my knowledge of Nigeria’s health indicators about child mortality, I know too well that these diseases are the most common causes of under-five deaths in the country.  The children in the hospital were lucky that their parents could pay the minimal admission fee and received treatment.

Millions of Nigerian children die each year before reaching their fifth birthday due to preventable and treatable causes. About a quarter of these deaths occur during the first 28 days of life.

With a high under-five mortality rate and a huge population Nigeria and India account for nearly a third of all under-five deaths globally.  Children’s chances of surviving to five years of age is largely unequal. Those coming from the poorest households are 2.5 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those from the richest households.  Children in the north-west are also over two times more likely to die than those in the south-west of the country.

Our report, which we aim to launch later this year, will look at the key interventions in maternal and child health that prevent newborns and children from dying from preventable causes.  Some of these interventions, such as antenatal and post-natal care, exclusive breastfeeding and immunisation are inexpensive and can be rolled out widely in developing countries.

Bangladesh and Eritrea, which are on-track to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4 by 2015, have shown that it is possible for low income countries to improve child survival.  Nigeria, which has more resources, could and should do more to prevent children from dying.  We hope to use our report to lobby the government and other groups to do just that.  Watch this space.

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