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Indian Scientist to Help Reduce Infant Mortality in Africa: UNICEF

Seven African countries have partnered with Indian scientist Abhay Bang to learn about and adopt his home-based approach to caring and treating// newborn babies to reduce infant mortality in Africa, the UNICEF said in a statement released here.

Facilitated by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), decision-makers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar will this month travel to Gadchiroli district in Maharastra state, India, to study Bang's pioneering work, which has been able to reduce by two-thirds the number of newborn babies dying within a month after birth.

At a cost of $150 per child, Bang's model is hailed as a feasible and cost-effective strategy for poor communities in Africa, said the UNICEF press release on Monday.

Through the NGO he founded, the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), Bang's programme provides basic health care to babies who are delivered at home.

"Although it is ideal that every mother should be attended to by skilled medical personnel in health facilities, the reality is that the majority of mothers in Africa, especially in rural areas, give birth at home," said Luwei Pearson, UNICEF's coordinator on maternal and neonatal health for eastern and southern Africa.

In such an environment, without any care and support, the newborns are at risk of dying from pneumonia, asphyxia, hypothermia and complications arising from prematurity.

The mothers have to be taught how to look after their babies better and be backed by prompt assistance that is accessible and affordable, Pearson said.

According to UNICEF, every year, 1 million babies in sub-Saharan Africa die within the first month of birth, accounting for nearly 60 percent of all deaths among under-five children.

The general view is that newborn deaths cannot be reduced without large-scale investments in technology and hospitals.

Important as these are, Bang's model has demonstrated the value of simple, low-cost, high impact interventions, said UNICEF.

Without funds for expensive neonatal care, African health leaders are seeing great potential in replicating the model within their own countries.

Bang's work in reducing newborn deaths has been published in the "Lancet" and the "Journal of Perinatology". He was included in Time magazine's "Heroes of Health" list for 2005.

(Source: IANS/Xinhua)

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