UNICEF supports Bhutan's unique approach and appreciates the commitment and stability of the leadership. It works closely with the government to ensure that all its programmes are sensitive to the real needs of the people and that they reach the most vulnerable sections of society.
|UNICEF in Bhutan
Committed partner in progress
Bhutan has made as much progress, especially in the social sector, in the last four decades as other nations have taken centuries to achieve.
In the last ten years, it nearly halved infant mortality from 103 to 60.5 per thousand live births, and under-five mortality from 215 to 97 for every thousand births. Maternal mortality has also dropped, from 800 to fewer than 300 cases of women dying as a result of complications due to childbirth or pregnancy for every 100,000 live births. The average life span has increased from 49 years for women and 46 years for men to 66 years for both. Seventy-eight per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water.
The government is committed to a number of important global goals, such as Health for All and Education for All by the year 2000, and the elimination of iodine deficiency disorders. One of the first few countries to achieve Universal Child Immunization in 1990, Bhutan is more than likely to achieve these targets. A "Health Trust Fund" (HTF) has been established in an effort to find an innovative and sustainable financing mechanism for the priority components of Primary Health Care.
Starting with a water supply programme in 1974, UNICEF has supported the government in its efforts to bring about significant change to the lives of the Bhutanese, especially children and women.
Having emerged from years of isolation, the country is striving to establish an infrastructure where none existed and to meet the basic needs of a population scattered across rugged mountain ranges.
Even as health workers negotiate the high passes and deep valleys, children still die from such preventable illnesses as acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases. Some people remain out of reach of medical facilities. Maternal and infant mortality rates were one of the highest in the South Asian region, with serious implications for the small population.
There is an acute shortage of teachers, and many children walk for many hours to reach their schools. There are not enough classrooms to cope with growing demand. Bhutan also faces the challenge of improving the quality and relevance of its education system, in view of the transformation of its rural and fast urbanizing communities.
There is good reason for optimism, however, as the kingdom adopts a unique approach, drawing on its strong tradition of community participation and the government's determination to increase decentralization and involve the people in planning and implementing all activities.
Women are the backbone of the family, and Bhutan, one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recently updated its marriage legislation to ensure stronger protection for women and children.
The international community has always acknowledged the commitment of the government and the full participation of the community in development. As one UNICEF official pointed out: "We read a lot about commitment and community participation, but it's not till we see it in Bhutan that we know what it means."
Emphasizing the importance of access to basic health and education, the UNICEF programme focuses on four key areas: health and nutrition; education; rural water supply and environmental sanitation; and advocacy, social mobilization and communication.
UNICEF is a committed partner as the government steers the country through this crucial period of change and growth. Quality, not quantity, is a national priority as the country attempts to strengthen its valuable resources -- women and children.
UNICEF aims to help deliver the basic needs of life to the unreached -- the remote communities living on the outskirts of civilization.
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