Algeria links infant mortality to poor prenatal care
By Walid Ramzi for Magharebia in Algiers – 28/01/11
Over 36,000 children under one year of age die annually in Algeria, the National Statistics Office (ONS) announced at a Tuesday (January 25th) seminar.
Around 16,000 of them die at birth in what the ONS described as a "terrifying" situation that has lasted for 5-6 years. The study presented at the Algiers event stressed the need to draw up a national plan to reduce the infant mortality rate, which is one of the indicators of development and the fourth UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG).
The seminar was held as part of a project to support the implementation of the Algeria-EU Association Agreement and brought together both Algerian and European experts. The attendees discussed the causes behind the high number of child fatalities and made suggestions on how to decrease the rate.
Dr Djamil Lebbane, director of the National Plan of Newborns, called for a review of the law on birth certification, stressing the need to provide good care at all stages of pregnancy and to pay attention to training in this field.
He noted the shortcomings that prevent Algeria from moving from 24.5 deaths per 1,000 live births to 18 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2015 in order to attain the MDG.
"The child mortality rate, which was recorded in the 1970s and estimated at 170 deaths per 1,000 live births, was the result of bad environmental conditions at that time," Lebbane said.
In the past years, however, infant deaths have mainly resulted from "lack of good health care for mothers during pregnancy", he noted.
Remote areas in particular suffer from scant supplies in health centres, low level of care and lack of medical professionals.
Messaouda Chader, who is in charge of the women's health file at the National Economic and Social Council (CNES), stressed the need to "follow up on and monitor pregnancy at the primary health care centres, and for university health institutions to take care of risky pregnancies".
Public authorities need to establish a strategy to "take care of the training of midwives", Algerian National Midwives' Union chief Akila Guerrouche urged.
She pointed to a severe shortage in "this important specialisation that takes care of following up on and monitoring pregnancy and helping with the birth, especially in remote areas that lack specialised doctors in gynaecology, obstetrics and paediatrics."
The attendees from different countries shared experiences and advice on how to tackle the problem.
"The EU is prepared to provide its support to the Maghreb countries that are geographically near it, by presenting its successful experience in combating child mortality and improving health conditions," said EU representative Gye Desplanques.
The French demography expert presented the European countries' strategy and pledged that the Union "will work to help Algeria establish real data so that it may make progress in combating child mortality."
Algeria faces an acute shortage of experts in paediatrics and maternity. A report issued by the Ministry of Health last July showed that Algerian hospitals suffer from an estimated deficit of 900 doctors, including 541 gynaecologists and obstetricians, as well as 389 paediatricians.
Last July, Algeria signed an agreement to bring in 181 Cuban doctors to help reduce the child and maternal mortality rates in the country.
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