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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 May 2006, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
African babies 'dying at birth'
Mother and baby from drought-stricken region of Kenya
Africa is the most dangerous place to be a mother, the report says
Some two million babies born every year in the developing world die on the first day of their lives, the Save the Children charity has said.

A report by the charity says most die from preventable causes, such as infections, a difficult birth or low birth weight.

It says many of the lives could be saved by simple, cheap techniques.

The charity also found it is safest to be a mother in Scandinavian countries - and most dangerous in African ones.

The findings come in the charity's annual report, State of the World's Mothers 2006.

It reveals that some 60 million mothers in the developing world give birth at home every year, without a skilled person to help.

More than three million babies are stillborn each year, and about four million die within one month, of disease or complications of childbirth.

Half of those die on the first day of their lives.

'Political will'

The charity argues that low-cost interventions could reduce newborn deaths by up to 70%.

It says an additional $4.1bn (2.2bn) per year from the international community could provide mothers with the information and services that could save their lives and their babies' lives.

Although 99% of newborn deaths and 98% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world, Save the Children says political will matters more than national wealth in tackling these deaths.

It says Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Eritrea and Tajikistan are among developing nations doing an "admirable job" in investing in services and education that improve the prospects for mothers and infants, despite limited resources.

Such countries improve their prospects for economic growth and development, says the report, which points out that babies who receive an unhealthy start in life tend to be sicklier, less productive adults.

Maternal welfare

The report includes rankings on how safe it is to be a mother around the world.

Factors such as maternal mortality, the percentage of women using modern contraception and adult female literacy rates are combined to make up the "Mothers' Index".

Skilled health worker present at virtually every birth
Nearly all Swedish women are literate
72% use modern form of contraception
One in 333 children die before their first birthday
16% of births attended by skilled health worker
One in 10 women is literate
4% use modern contraception
One in seven children die before their first birthday
Source: Save the Children

Of the 125 countries listed, Sweden comes first, while other Scandinavian countries dominate the top 10. The US and UK tie for 10th place.

Niger is at the bottom, with nine other African countries filling the 10 last places.

However, in another table the charity ranks 33 industrialised nations according to newborn mortality.

Here, the US performs badly, languishing near the bottom of the table alongside Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with five newborn deaths per 1,000 live births.

The researchers say there is a high degree of differentiation among survival rates for babies from racial minorities compared to whites in the US, with non-Hispanic black babies twice as likely to die as white babies.

There is also a greater wealth gap in the US than in many other developed nations, researchers point out.

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