World is failing newborn babies, says UNICEF

Babies from the best places to be born up to 50 times less likely to die in the first month of life

NEW YORK, ADDIS ABABA, 20 February 2018 – Global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF said today in a new report on newborn mortality. Babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

“While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is 3 deaths per 1,000. Newborns from the riskiest places to give birth are up to 50 times more likely to die than those from the safest places.

The report also notes that 8 of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions. If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

Unequal shots at life[1]

Highest newborn mortality rates Lowest newborn mortality rates
1. Pakistan: 1 in 22 1. Japan: 1 in 1,111
2. Central African Republic: 1 in 24 2. Iceland: 1 in 1,000
3. Afghanistan: 1 in 25 3. Singapore: 1 in 909
4. Somalia: 1 in 26 4. Finland: 1 in 833
5. Lesotho: 1 in 26 5. Estonia: 1 in 769
6. Guinea-Bissau: 1 in 26 5. Slovenia: 1 in 769
7. South Sudan: 1 in 26 7. Cyprus: 1 in 714
8. Côte d’Ivoire: 1 in 27 8. Belarus: 1 in 667
9. Mali: 1 in 28 8. Luxembourg: 1 in 667
10. Chad: 1 in 28 8. Norway: 1 in 667
  8. Republic of Korea: 1 in 667

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says. These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition. However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is 1 per 10,000 in Somalia.

This month, UNICEF is launching Every Child ALIVE, a global campaign to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every child alive by:

  • Recruiting, training, retaining and managing sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care;
  • Guaranteeing clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
  • Making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
  • Empowering adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.

“Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world do not survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born,” said Ms. Fore. “We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.”

About Ethiopia

 Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa with a total population of 94 million, out of which 13 million are under five years of age. Despite making overall progress in child survival, deaths among newborn babies still remain high. At 29 deaths per 1,000 live births, newborn mortality accounts for 44 per cent of all under five deaths. The new UNICEF report indicates that in 2016 alone, 90,000 newborn babies died in Ethiopia, ranking the country among 10 high burden countries globally.

Recognizing the need to accelerate newborn survival, the Government has put newborn survival at the centre of the Health Sector Development Plan. It has developed the Newborn and Child Survival Strategy (2015-2020) to strengthen the capacity of the health system and the skills of health workers to deliver quality health care to every mother and newborn baby. This includes the provision of quality antenatal care, skilled delivery, essential newborn care, postnatal care and neonatal intensive care for sick neonates.

UNICEF’s support to the newborn care programme includes;

  • Antenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, child care;
  • Health posts, health centres, and tertiary level hospitals; and
  • Integrated management of neonatal and childhood illnesses, immunization, community-based neonatal care, newborn care corners, and neonatal intensive care units.

UNICEF will continue to support the Ministry of Health to expand the availability of essential newborn care in the 800 health centers across the country, establish Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in hospitals, and strengthen the link between community-based and facility-based maternal, newborn, and child health programmes.


WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International urge to sustain the polio-free status of Ethiopia

24 October 2017, Addis Ababa: Today, as the world commemorates World Polio Day, we, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Rotary International, reaffirm our commitment to building on the success of our joint polio eradication efforts and sustaining the polio free status of the country.

Today, we are looking back at nearly three decades of concerted global polio eradication efforts. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was created in 1988 after the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate poliomyelitis globally and has since made remarkable progress towards reaching the eradication target. As a result, polio cases globally decreased by over 99 per cent from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988, to only 37 reported cases in 2016. Furthermore, the number of countries with polio endemic decreased from 125 to only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. However, until the polio virus transmission is interrupted in these polio endemic countries, all countries remain at risk of polio importation.


Nahom Alemseged gets a mark after receiving a polio vaccination
Nahom Alemseged get his finger marked after receiving a polio vaccination during a national campaign. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Ethiopia maintained its polio-free status for almost four years (45 months) after the last wild polio case was reported in Somali region in January 2014. We recognize that this achievement is a result of the effective leadership of the Federal Ministry of Health and the great partnership of polio eradication initiative collaborators, donors and partners including: Rotary International; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; WHO; UNICEF; USAID; CDC; CORE Group; and many frontline health workers who have played a key role in the successful fight against polio. 

We are committed to building on the recommendations which Ethiopia received from the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) in June 2017 when Ethiopia’s submission of a national polio free status report was accepted. As such, we will strive to strengthen and maintain routine immunization and surveillance with a particular focus on pastoralist communities, refugees, hard to reach and border areas as well as strengthening outbreak preparedness and coordination, cross-border surveillance with Somalia and others.

The theme for this year’s World Polio Day in Ethiopia is Commending Ethiopia polio free status, sustaining the gain.While we celebrate Ethiopia’s polio eradication success, we remain committed to continuing our joint polio eradication efforts in order to sustain this incredible achievement. In particular, we will build on the lessons learned as we strive to achieve regional certification.

The Polio Eradication and End Game Strategic Plan, developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, envisages a polio free world by 2018. While we have come very close to achieving this goal, much remains to be done. We would like to call on all stakeholders to renew their commitment to a world which is free of polio.


Ethiopia to Host the fourth Acting on the Call Conference of Ministers and Policy Makers on maternal and child survival

Media Advisory

What: The Ministry of Health will officially announce that Ethiopia will be hosting Acting on the Call conference of Ministers and high-level policy makers on maternal and child survival

When: Friday 18 August 2017, from 2:00 P.M – 3:30 P.M

Where: Ministry of Health, Addis Ababa Ethiopia

· H.E Prof. Yifru Berhan, Minister of Health, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
· Dr Ephrem Tekle, Director, Maternal Child Health and Nutrition Directorate, Minister of Health, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia


Hosted by the governments of Ethiopia and India, 2017 Acting on the Call conference will gather around 500 participants across the world, including Ministers and high-level policy makers from both the public and private sectors from 24 countries. The organization of this conference has been supported by many partner organizations such as USAID, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NGOs as well as private sector actors. This conference has these objectives:
· Highlight successful approaches to increase the use of high-impact reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health interventions (RMNCAH) with equity, quality and sustainability.
· Increase commitment from countries, private sector and NGOs to strengthen the system required to overcome the remaining key obstacles for maternal and child survival both within and outside the health sector.
· Demonstrate global commitment and continued the momentum to move forward towards the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths.

Ethiopia Attains Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination

Addis Ababa, 30 June 2017: “Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination in Ethiopia is hereby validated!” That was the conclusion of the joint mission from UNICEF and WHO today at its debriefing sessions with: the Ethiopian Ministry of Health; the WHO Representative to Ethiopia; and the UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has thus become 42nd country in the world to have validated the elimination of Maternal and Neonatal tetanus.

Ethiopia began accelerated Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination (MNTE) efforts in 1999. In 2011, all the regions in the country except the Somali Region were validated for MNTE. The 2011 validation mission made recommendations that would see the Somali Region progress to MNTE over time. The recommendations were implemented especially corrective vaccination campaigns against tetanus in 2016. The administrative, as well as post-campaign survey data, revealed more than 85% coverage in each of the 9 zones of Ethiopia Somali Region. The Joint validation mission reviewed these and other related data during the period, 28-30 June 2017, and concluded that maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination had been achieved in the Somali Region and, by extension, in the whole of Ethiopia.

Receiving the good news of the validation of MNTE in Ethiopia, the State Minister of Health, His Excellency Dr. Kebede Worku exclaimed that “The country had worked hard on improving Maternal and Child Health services delivery with tangible results including the record attainment of MDG 4 three years ahead of the target year of 2015. Along with this, MNTE was given emphasis and hence between 1999 and 2009, over 15 million women of reproductive age (WRA) in 59 high-risk zones were immunized during three rounds of Tetanus Toxoid (TT) Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIA). Thus in April 2011, the validation survey concluded that the whole country except Somali region had been validated for MNTE, and now the whole country including Somali region has achieved MNT elimination. This was possible through the efforts and investments made to improve maternal and child health care. The ministry of health will continue to sustain this gain by integrating maternal and child health care services with other public health priorities”.

WHO Representative, Dr. Akpaka A. Kalu, congratulated the country and said that “WHO is grateful for this remarkable result. He added that WHO will continue to support the Ministry to sustain this achievement by prioritizing risk areas for public health interventions that need more support and interventions through specifically targeted strategies with active community involvement to achieve the desired results.” Dr. Kalu also revealed that the integration of vaccine preventable disease with other health programs will be also incorporated in the WHO response strategy.

“I would like to extend my warm congratulations to the Ministry of Health and its partners for this excellent achievement, which benefits the health of women and children,” said Ms. Shalini Bahuguna, Officer in Charge of UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “UNICEF will continue to support the government of Ethiopia to sustain this achievement and deliver results for every child” she added.

Zones were selected following an in-depth review of the risk factors for maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) using the high-risk approach. Clean delivery and cord care practices, reaching all women of reproductive age in high-risk districts through TT SIAs and immunization of pregnant women during routine immunization and conducting neonatal surveillance as it is a hidden disease, are some of the interventions that helped to achieve this remarkable result.

It is acknowledged that the validation of MNTE in Ethiopia is not an end in itself but the beginning of a new phase of interventions focused on sustaining the attainment of Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus elimination status, an endeavour that is possible only through: maintaining tetanus protection level at above 80 percent in every zone especially in the zones that achieved elimination through Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs); strengthening partnerships for improving Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) activities; and  implementing the sustainability plan of action-2014 which incorporates a  switch from Tetanus Toxoid (TT) to Tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine, and annual joint review of national MNT risk status  to guide the interventions.



Saving Ethiopia’s adolescents from the scourge of parasites

By Fanna Minwuyelet

Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, Ethiopia, 23 February 2016 –Tesfatsion Alemayehu wants to be an engineer someday, but the 14-year-old girl has trouble concentrating in school. She is often dizzy and light headed and complains of a stomach ache.

Tesfatsion likely has worms.

Intestinal worms and bilharzia are rampant in Ethiopia and children suffering from these afflictions are often too sick or tired to go to school or concentrate. In the long term, the result is malnutrition, anaemia, stunting and even impaired cognitive development, all of which result in poor educational achievement.

So one day in February, Tesfatsion is standing in line at her Gurmu Koisha school where she will receive a de-worming tablet from the local health extension workers.

The tablet will take care of Tesfatsion’s worms which could be schistosomes that cause bilharzia and are carried by snails that live in fresh water. Once the worms are gone, she will be able to concentrate in school again.

Integrating Nutrition, Water and Sanitation Behaviour Change Interventions

The programme, which is funded by EU-SHARE and implemented by local authorities and UNICEF, is much more than just giving pills, however. In the shade next to where the students are lining up, trained nutrition club members are conducting games that impart key nutrition and hygiene lessons.

These activities, known as behaviour change interventions, help the students understand the benefits of the tablets and teaches helpful nutrition and hygiene practices that can minimize future parasitic infections.

For her part, Tesfatsion particularly likes the “Who am I?” game in which students learn about six common iron-rich food groups. Learning about which foods contain iron is especially valuable for young girls like Tesfatsion as they start menstruating.

Schools as gateways to behaviour change

14 years old Tesfa Tsion , 10th grade, takes medication for intestinal parasites. Gurumu Koysha primary and secondary school, Wolayta, Boloso Sore Woreda, SNNPR.
14 years old Tesfa Tsion , 10th grade, takes medication for intestinal parasites. Gurumu Koysha primary and secondary school, Wolayta, Boloso Sore Woreda, SNNPR. ©UNICEF ETHIOPIA/ 2016/ Meklit Mersha

Samson Alemayehu, the head of the health bureau at Boloso Woreda, where Tesfatsion lives, said his department is working with the schools to provide these services.

“We believe that Behaviour Change Communication interventions that take place in the schools by health and nutrition clubs play a big role in increasing awareness in the community, particularly on basic hygiene sanitation and optimal feeding,” he said.

The Health Bureau implements the program through the Health Development Army, which is present in every community and the 1-5 network, in which one person is responsible for five others.

The programme supports the integration of water and sanitation as well as nutrition education into the large scale de-worming campaign in 436 woredas across the country.

It also supports the de-worming specifically of adolescents in high schools in 86 woredas in Amhara, Oromia and SNNP regions free of charge.

“I need to attend all the classes and study hard to make my dream a reality,” said Tesfatsion.


EU Partnership Paves the Way for Better Nutrition for Children and Women in Ethiopia

By Nardos Birru

ADDIS ABABA, September 2016 – Ethiopia has experienced repeated droughts, particularly in the past few years, which have eroded rural livelihoods, causing increased food insecurity and malnutrition among vulnerable communities. The 2015/2016 El Niño-driven drought, for instance, left 9.7 million people in need of emergency food assistance.

In response to recurrent food insecurity, UNICEF has partnered with the European Union (EU) to contribute to building resilience of the most vulnerable groups, which includes children under five, as well as pregnant and lactating women. Resilience, or the ability of a community to withstand, adapt and quickly recover from shocks such as drought, is a cornerstone of the EU’s humanitarian and development assistance.

To this effect, the EU has provided €10 million to UNICEF-assisted programmes as part of its Supporting the Horn of Africa’s Resilience (SHARE) initiative through a project entitled Multi-Sectoral Interventions to Improve Nutrition Security & Resilience. The project is implemented in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the drought-affected woredas (districts) of Amhara, Oromia Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNP) regions, benefiting 773,626 mothers and children.

As part of the community-based nutrition programme, Binti, a Health Extension Worker counsels a mother on best nutrition practices. ©UNICEF/2014/Nesbitt

How does SHARE work?

The project aims for communities to have access to quality nutrition services in their vicinity and a better understanding of the importance of proper infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices.

It covers a wide range of interventions including the promotion of exclusive breast feeding and adequate complementary feeding, vitamin A supplementation and deworming of children, as well as the promotion of hygiene and sanitation.

This is complemented by a series of nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions led by FAO in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture. This component helps build the capacity of women to improve the variation of their diet through livestock and poultry rearing, as well as backyard gardening. It also brings opportunities for women to collaborate as peer support groups to produce nutritionally valuable complementary foods such as cereal mixtures for sale. This stimulates the local economy by creating jobs and empowering women to ensure the healthy growth of their children.

An evidence-based approach

Launch of document entitled “Situation Analysis of the Nutrition Sector in Ethiopia” from 2000-2015
Left to right: H.E Chantal Hebberecht, Ambassador of the European Union; Birara Melese, National Nutrition Programme Team Coordinator; Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia; at the launch of the 2000-2015 “Situation Analysis of the Nutrition Sector in Ethiopia” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ©UNICEF/2016/Tesfaye

One achievement of the project was an initiative to analyze and document the nutrition situation in the country from 2000 to 2015.  The report was launched in March 2016 and highlights critical gaps in terms of existing policies and programmes which need to be addressed urgently to accelerate nutrition results for women and children. Key findings of the situation analysis report include poor water supply and sanitation as high risk factors for child stunting, educating mothers as a key factor for improving nutrition, as well as the need to improve production diversity, nutrition knowledge and women’s empowerment to ensure that diverse and nutritious foods are available and accessible at all times.

The SHARE project also serves as a platform for multiple non-governmental organizations where they can exchange expertise and best practices to improve implementation and follow a harmonized approach in their respective intervention sites. This way, efforts are combined and the impact on the nutrition status of children and women will be maximized.

UNICEF would like to express its gratitude to the EU for the generous financial contribution to UNICEF-assisted programmes and looks forward to strengthening successful collaboration for children and women in Ethiopia. Thanks to EU support, over 225,000 children under five and over 50,000 mothers will have better access to improved nutrition services. This is in line with the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia to realize the Seqota Declaration to make undernutrition, in particular child undernutrition, history in Ethiopia.

Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams Providing Crucial Services for Pastoralist Mothers As They Cope with Drought

By Rebecca Beauregard

GASHAMO, SOMALI, 15 February 2017 – Mutas does not look at his mother. He is not looking anywhere, rather he lays still, his unfocused pupils covered occasionally by heavy eyelids. While we talk, his mother, Bedra Dek, keeps her eyes entirely on him. Her one-year-old son is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and despite the food and water shortage and her two other children, she explains that all her thoughts are focused on him improving.

“When your child is well, spiritually you feel happy. This is what I am waiting and hoping for. Nothing else is in my mind except this,” Bedra speaks softly, her eyes never wavering from her son.

About six months ago, Mutas became sick with a cold. Since then, he has fought that illness and intermittent diarrhoea while they lived in remote rural areas. Living in remote areas means even farther than where we are now, which is over 300 km from the regional capital and 63 km off the paved road through desert sand – no roads. Bedra walked yet another 15 km to the settlement just outside Al-Bahi kebele (sub-district) after hearing that there was a mobile health and nutrition team (MHNT) providing lifesaving services. She knew Mutas was not improving, and indeed, shortly after her arrival, he had become lethargic and largely unresponsive.

MHNT in Somali drought 2017
Bedra Dek, 21-years-old, looks at her one-year-old Mutas Abdulahi, who is ill from malnourishment. ©UNICEF/2017/Tesfaye

At 21-years-old, Bedra has 7- and 4-year-old daughters in addition to Mutas. They are a pastoralist family, living in a rural village and often traveling vast kilometres in search of water and grazing land for their livestock.

While the semi-arid Somali region is often dry, the drought brought on by the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) in the past few months is beyond anything Bedra has experienced. Her family’s herd of over 200 goats and sheep is now down to four, and their physical appearance is too poor to sell in the market.

Upon arriving in Al Bahi, she went to the MHNT, which has temporarily set up as a static clinic in the site to service the hundreds of families in the area. MHNTs were initially set up over a decade ago in this region as a unique and necessary component of the emergency health service delivery system to reach nomadic families such as Bedra’s. They respond to disease outbreaks, provide routine immunizations and basic healthcare including treatment of common illnesses, conduct screening and manage uncomplicated cases of malnutrition as well as refer to higher levels of care as necessary. Here, the team has encountered high levels of malnutrition and the majority of children have low immunization status. The team is both responding to emergency care needs as well as conducting mass immunization and other preventative measures to ensure that a temporary settlement like this does not create further disease and suffering.

Once a child is diagnosed with SAM, they are provided with ready-to-use-therapeutic-food (RUTF) and medications which should help them to quickly improve. To ensure progress, mothers are instructed to come weekly to have their children checked. We meet Bedra as she waits with Mutas for his weekly check.

MHNT in Somali drought 2017
The homes of pastoralists gathered at the temporary Al Bahi site starting from December 2016, in Gashamo woreda, Somali region. ©UNICEF/2017/Tesfaye

UNICEF continues to support the GoE’s MHNTs through vehicle provision, transportation allowances, emergency supplies and technical guidance. UNICEF emergency health and monitoring consultant, Kassim Hussein, was present when Mutas was referred. When asked about his role, he explained how he roves around the region providing technical support. “During emergencies, things may be done in a haste, there may be staffing or technical knowledge gaps, or the situation may reach extreme levels and the team is too busy to report. I make rounds to all the teams, providing technical support and ensuring standards of care and supplies are available at adequate levels. I then report back to UNICEF and the regional health bureau,” explains Kassim.

Now Mutas is being seen by Mohammed Miyir, the team leader of the MHNT in Al-Bahi temporary settlement. Originally, he diagnosed Mutas with SAM; now his condition has developed medical complications, making him unable to receive fluids or medicine. This development signals the need for him to be sent to a stabilization centre (SC) at the Gashamo woreda (district) health centre, where he will receive in-patient advanced care until he reaches a minimal level of improvement in his responsiveness and weight.

Bedra is perplexed. Just minutes before they told her this news, she had said she wanted anything for him to improve. Now that it may happen, a new reality hit her. Her two daughters will need to be left behind – there is no room in the MHNT car. This is often an issue mothers out here face. With husbands caring for the grazing livestock, if they need to go to a SC for further treatment, who will take care of their other children? Some find neighbours to watch their kids, other mothers choose to stay and hope for the best, concerned about finding their children again as people are so mobile.

For Bedra, she has another 10 minutes to decide until the car will be ready for her.