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Infant deaths at birth are highest in Africa

NAIROBI — More than 1 million babies die the day they are born every year, and the 14 countries with the highest rates of first-day deaths are all in Africa, according to a new report released Tuesday.

Somalia, Congo, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Central African Republic are the five countries with the highest rates of such deaths, according to the report ‘‘Surviving the First Day’’ from the group Save the Children.

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‘‘Health care for mothers in sub-Saharan Africa is woefully insufficient. On average, only half the women in the region receive skilled care during birth,’’ the report said. ‘‘The region as a whole has only 11 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 10,000 people, less than half the critical threshold of 23 generally considered necessary to deliver essential health services.’’

The numbers in Somalia — a country racked by 20 years of violence with little established government and few health services — are particularly grim. Eighteen out of 1,000 babies in Somalia die the day they are born, the report said. Five percent of newborns die within the first month of life and one in six will not live to age 5, it said.

‘‘What’s worse, Somalia has seen absolutely no improvement in newborn or child survival in at least two decades,’’ it said. Somali women have on average more than six children.

Prebirth care to expectant mothers is largely not available in Somalia, said Dr. Omar Saleh, a World Health Organization official.

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