A newborn in Afghanistan, which has the 6th highest rate of babies dying on their first day of life. Photo: Getty.
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Why are one million babies a year dying in their first day of life?

The first 24 hours in a baby's life are the most dangerous, but newborn deaths have been under-researched and neonatal care is under-funded.

The first day of a baby’s life is the most dangerous. According to a report published by Save the Children today, one million newborns a year die in their first day of life. Another 2.9 million annually die within their first 28 days. And 1.2 million newborns die during labour. The charity believes that two million of these deaths are preventable, and if healthcare services were more equally distributed, this would reduce newborn mortality by 38 per cent.

These statistics make for depressing reading, but they are very significant. Traditionally, international aid agencies and charities have focussed on reducing infant mortality, which is usually defined as cutting down the number of deaths in children under five. Reducing infant mortality was one of the Millennium Development Goals pledged by the UN and signatory states in 2000, and since 1990 the number of children who do not make it to their fifth birthday has halved – although 18,000 children under five die each day from preventable illnesses.

Save the Children’s research however focuses specifically on the first month of life, and so highlights the important role that midwives can play in infant survival. Conventional statistics on infant mortality don’t count the 1.2 million babies that die during labour  - but these deaths are too numerous to ignore.

The best way of preventing the death of newborns is to ensure that women are looked after by skilled birth professionals – especially if they are trained in basic techniques like neonatal resuscitation and can advise on basic newborn care –  but each year 40 million women give birth without one, and two million of these will give birth completely alone. In Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia and Sierra Leone there are fewer than 2 doctors, nurses or other medical professionals per 10,000 people – but the critical threshold is considered to be 23. It’s no surprise then that together with Pakistan (which tops the list) these are the five countries where babies are most likely to die in childbirth or on their first day of life.

The positive from Save the Children’s report – if you can consider it that – is that the charity estimates that increasing health expenditure by $5 per person could prevent 32 million stillbirths, and save the lives of 147 million children and 5 million women by 2035. The biggest barrier isn’t financial: it’s finding the political will and commitment. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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