The Nigeria Society of Neonatal Medicine (NISONM), a sub-specialty group of pediatricians, on Thursday described infant mortality as one of the Nigeria’s worst health challenges.
Prof. Chinyere Ezeaka, President of the society, spoke at a news conference in Ibadan as parts of the activities marking its Annual General and Scientific Conference.
Ezeaka said that compared to interventions in other health sectors, there had been minimal progress in efforts to reduce mortality among newborns in the country.
The expert said that of the seven million births recorded yearly in Nigeria, no fewer than 254,000 of those babies died annually.
“We are worried with the dismal figure of newborn morbidity and mortality in Nigeria.
“Nigeria has the highest number of newborn deaths in the whole of Africa and second highest in the world after India. The statistics is quite grim.
“Where we lose about 254,000 newborns every year, which comes to about 700 newborn deaths everyday and when we break this down to hours you will see that we have lost about 30 newborns per hour.
“Fifty per cent of these deaths also occur within the first 24 hours of the baby’s life. This is totally unacceptable,” she said.
The society president said that progress in addressing the high death rate had been slow due to inadequate training of front-line health workers and ignorance among mothers.
According to her, while the death rate is dismal, 90 per cent of the deaths in newborns are preventable.
She identified prematurity, asphyxia, infections and neonatal jaundice as the major causes of neonatal deaths in the country.
“Majority of these deaths are preventable by improving existing care and eliminating underlying causes of neonatal mortality.
“A major underlying problem is lack of respiratory support in our health centres, because when the babies are delivered, especially the premature babies, you must make them to breath.
“Respiratory support is very critical and an ambu bag, which costs less than N5, 000 is not available in majority of our birthing and maternity centres,” she said.
Ezeaka called on the three tiers of government to undertake a welfare support system for mother and child health to reduce neonatal mortality rate and make progress in newborn health.
“To ensure that newborns in Nigeria survive, thrive and live to attain their life potential, attention needs to be focused in the area of newborn health.
“Poverty, illiteracy and ignorance are underlying causes of infant mortality.
“No matter how poor or ignorant they are, they don’t want their babies to die.
“We need the government to come to their aid and give some insurance cover and ensure more women register for antenatal care where they can get adequate information,” she said.