More women and their children are surviving today than ever before, according to new child and maternal mortality estimates released yesterday by United Nations groups led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since 2000, child deaths have reduced by nearly half and maternal deaths by over one-third, mostly due to improved access to affordable, quality health services.
“In countries that provide everyone with safe, affordable, high-quality health services, women and babies survive and thrive,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “This is the power of universal health coverage.”
Still, the new estimates reveal that 6.2 million children under 15 years died in 2018, and over 290 000 women died due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth in 2017. Of the total child deaths, 5.3 million occurred in the first 5 years, with almost half of these in the first month of life.
Women and newborns are most vulnerable during and immediately after childbirth. An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, the new estimates say.
Children face the highest risk of dying in the first month, especially if they are born too soon or too small, have complications during birth, congenital defects, or contract infections. About a third of these deaths occur within the first day and nearly three quarters in the first week alone.
“Around the world, birth is a joyous occasion. Yet, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family tragedy,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death. We must do all it takes to invest in universal health coverage to save these precious lives.”
Vast inequalities worldwide
The estimates also show vast inequalities worldwide, with women and children in sub-Saharan Africa facing a substantially higher risk of death than in all other regions.
Levels of maternal deaths are nearly 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa and their babies are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life, compared to high-income countries.
In 2018, 1 in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday– this is 15 times higher than the risk a child faces in Europe, where just 1 in 196 children aged less than 5 die.
Women in sub-Saharan Africa face a 1 in 37 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. By comparison, the lifetime risk for a woman in Europe is 1 in 6500. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia account for around 80% of global maternal and child deaths. Countries in conflict or humanitarian crisis often have weak health systems that prevent women and children from accessing essential lifesaving care.
Progress linked to universal health coverage
The world has made substantial progress in reducing child and maternal mortality. Since 1990, there has been a 56% reduction in deaths of children under 15 years from 14.2 million deaths to 6.2 million in 2018. Countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia have made the most progress, with an 80% decline in under-five deaths.
And from 2000 to 2017, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 38%. Southern Asia has made the greatest improvements in maternal survival with a nearly 60% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio since 2000.
Belarus, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Morocco, Mongolia, Rwanda, Timor-Leste and Zambia are some of the countries that have shown substantial progress in reducing child or maternal mortality. Success has been due to political will to improve access to quality health care by investing in the health workforce, introducing free care for pregnant women and children and supporting family planning. Many of these countries focus on primary health care and universal health coverage.
Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine Shows 95% Effectiveness – Pfizer, BioNTech
Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that a completed study of their experimental Covid-19 vaccine showed it was 95 percent effective.
They said the two-dose vaccine had no serious safety concerns and that the companies will apply for emergency use authorization from US regulators “within days.”
The announcement came as coronavirus cases are surging in the US and other parts of the world, and boosted hopes for an end to the pandemic that has upended life around the globe.
“The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
“With hundreds of thousands of people around the globe infected every day, we urgently need to get a safe and effective vaccine to the world,” he added.
Pfizer had said last week after a preliminary analysis that its product was more than 90 percent effective.
On Monday another biotech firm involved in the race to develop a vaccine, Moderna, said its own vaccine was 94.5 percent effective, according to a preliminary analysis.
Pfizer has previously said it expected to contact the US Food and Drug Administration to apply for an Emergency Use Authorization by the third week of November.
The FDA had imposed a requirement on Covid-19 vaccine makers of having at least two months of follow-up with volunteers after their second dose, taken 28 days after the first, in order to ensure the drugs are safe.
Moderna developed its vaccine along with the US National Institutes for Health.
Both vaccines use mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology to deliver genetic material to the body that makes human cells create a protein from the virus.
This trains the immune system to be ready to attack if it encounters SARS-CoV-2.
Other vaccines that are in late-stage trials, such as one being developed by Johnson & Johnson and another by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, use modified viruses to deliver genetic material for the same purpose.
No mRNA vaccines have ever been approved, but Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease scientist, told AFP Tuesday the technology had now “established itself.”
Oyo govt. denies cholera outbreak in community
Oyo State Government on Wednesday denied reports of alleged cholera outbreak in Lagun Village of Lagelu Local Government Area of the state, declaring that there is no evidence to back recent claims.
According to a report of the Ministry of Health’s technical committee that investigated the matter, signed by the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Bashir Bello, the claims of cholera outbreak were unfounded.
The report, titled “Re: Rumours of suspected cholera outbreak in Lagelu LGA of Oyo State,” revealed that investigations by the state’s Epidemiological Team, including the DSNO and LGA Teams in Lagelu and surrounding LGAs, showed there is no evidence to back such rumour.
Dr. Bello in a statement issued by Mr. Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Makinde, added that the team dispatched to carry out the investigation, was also not shown any fresh grave or fresh burial ground to ascertain claims of mass death.
The statement stated, however, that the Ministry had placed pre-positioned antibiotics and intravenous fluids at the state’s health facility in Lagun to prevent an outbreak of cholera in the area.
The Commissioner further disclosed that the state has also begun an active case search in affected communities and neighbouring states as well as community engagement and enlightenment on the prevention of diarrheal diseases including cholera.
He explained that findings from the field showed that the ailment recorded affected only four individuals and not 10 people as claimed in the media and that there was no evidence to back the claim of six deaths.
He maintained that the ailment could be ascribed to poor hygienic conditions, adding that the Ministry also suspected cases of gastroenteritis or likely food poisoning.
The report stated: “The Ministry of Health received reports of suspected cases of cholera in Lagun Village on Friday, 6th of November, 2020. Following the notification, the state and the LGA surveillance network began intensified action at investigation and response, and findings from the field investigation are as follow:
“Ten (10) cases of diarrhoea and vomiting were reported to have occurred in Lagun Village by members of the community. Six of the cases were said to have died.
“But, upon investigation, no freshly dug graves were found in the said community and we only found two cases at Faith Clinic, Ejioku, and another two cases at the Lagun Rehabilitation Centre both private hospitals.
“All four cases are alive and are no longer stooling, therefore, stool samples could not be collected from them for confirmation of the aetiological agent (causative), while they have also been treated and stabilised.
“We observed poor sanitary conditions in the village, as the wells were not covered and were in poor sanitary conditions.
“We hereby confirm that with the active efforts of the state epidemiologist and his team (DNSO, LGA Team in the affected LGA and neighbouring LGAs), no real death attributable to cholera had been confirmed.
“The reported deaths were neither seen nor traceable and, therefore, cannot be attributed to cholera outbreak, as no patient within the community actually reported to any government or local government facility in the said local government.
“The ailment recorded (and deaths, if any) could be ascribed to very poor hygienic conditions and we suspect cases of gastroenteritis or likely food poisoning in the affected community.”
Speaking on preventive steps already taken by the Ministry, Bello added: “We have pre-positioned antibiotics and intravenous fluids at the General Hospital, Lagun, for care of emerging cases.
“The Ministry has also embarked on community engagement and enlightenment on prevention of diarrheal diseases including cholera.
“We have also embarked on active search in affected communities and neighbouring communities and have also alerted the neighbouring local government areas.”
America in trouble as COVID-19 cases surpass 200,000 in 24 hours
The United States on Tuesday far exceeded its previous daily record of new Covid-19 cases, adding 201,961 cases in 24 hours, according to the tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The high number, partly due to data delayed over the weekend, took total cases in the US to 10,238,243, with a total of 239,588 deaths, as of 8:30 pm (0130 GMT).
In the 24-hour period, 1,535 deaths from Covid-19 were registered, a record in recent months as the US struggles to contain the spread of the pandemic.
For a week now, the number of new infections has trended at over 100,000 each day.
Coronavirus hospitalizations have also hit an all-time high, with more than 60,000 people hospitalized across the country, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
President Donald Trump, who has refused to concede defeat in the November 3 election, has repeatedly mocked people for wearing masks and claimed the virus would go away by itself.
But his victorious opponent Joe Biden has vowed to take a more proactive approach, telling the nation this week that face coverings are the single best way to get the virus under control.
US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their vaccine candidate was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19, marking a major breakthrough in the search for a vaccine.
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