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Science-Based Health Policies Could Prevent Nearly 4M Maternal, Child Deaths In Africa, Report Says

Nearly 4 million deaths among women and children in sub-Saharan Africa could be prevented annually if relatively inexpensive, “science-based health policies” reached 90 percent of families, according to an African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI) report (.pdf) published Monday, Nature News reports. The report, which is the initiative’s first policy paper, was released at the group’s annual conference in Accra, Ghana, from Nov. 9-11.

“The report divides African countries into three categories based on the percentage of births that are overseen by a skilled person, such as a midwife or health worker: less than 30%, 30–60% and more than 60%,” Nature News writes.

Using a computer model, researchers found that improving infectious disease care for children younger than age 5 would save the most lives across all of the categories. “However, when it comes to mothers, the scenarios differ. In places with less than 30% ‘skilled attendance,’ helping mothers to plan their pregnancies has big potential to save lives. But in countries with higher levels of skilled attendance at birth, the report suggests that policy-makers should focus on improving access to emergency obstetric care, such as Caesarean sections and blood transfusions,” according to the publication (Nordling, 11/9).

According to an ASADI press release, interventions will affect countries differently because “the context of health systems varies among countries … The report authors therefore showed how many lives could be saved by selected priority interventions in different health system contexts” (11/9). The cost of implementing the recommended policies is “extremely affordable,” ranging from $0.50–$3 per person, according to the report, Nature News writes (11/9).

The report was written by representatives from participating ASADI countries, which include Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. It notes that “many African nations are underutilizing existing scientific knowledge to save lives” and “calls on scientists, health care providers, policymakers, and development agencies to partner on ways to use the latest evidence to fill the gap between the discovery of new interventions and their delivery to families most in need,” according to the press release (11/9).

Nature News writes, “There are signs that African academies are beginning to transform from mainly honorific societies to become active advisers on policy. … African governments, meanwhile, seem to be warming to the idea of taking advice from scientists.” The article includes additional information about ASADI and the use of scientific evidence in Africa (11/9).

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