Buy Five, Help Save a Life!
UNICEF and Armenia’s Postal Service Issue a Joint Stamp to Help Reduce Neonatal Mortality
By Emil Sahakyan/UNICEF Armenia
Every year around 4 million children across the world die within the first 28 days of life, according to the findings of UNICEF’s “State of the World Children” 2008 report.
Most of these deaths could have been prevented, had timely and proper neonatal care and treatment services been provided to those children.
In the past five years Armenia has shown tangible progress in reducing infant and child mortality rates. In Armenia, roughly 26 infants per 1,000 live births die before their first birthday. Approximately 65% these deaths are during the first 28 days of life – the neonatal period. However, these aggregate numbers mask wide disparities. Infant mortality for children in the wealthiest households is only 14 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births for the infants in the poorest households.
“While Armenia has made good progress in meeting Millennium Development Goal 4 which calls for a two-thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015,” it is essential that all segments of the population benefit from these improvements in child survival rates,” says UNICEF Armenia Representative Sheldon Yett.
“Asphyxia and infections are the most common causes for child’s death during the first days after the birth,” says Arusiak Aslanyan, a neonatologist, working at the maternity in Stepanavan, a small town in Lori province of Armenia.
Although the maternity is in good shape and has relatively new equipment and skilled staff, last year it recorded two cases of infant deaths.
There are several factors contributing to the problem, including poor antenatal and neonatal care, lack of qualified staff and basic equipment, conditions that make it difficult for healthcare providers, especially those in rural areas, to provide satisfactory services for neonatal care.
UNICEF and the Ministry of Health have been working hard to better meet the country’s newborn care needs.
Last year 10 maternities, including the Stepanavan maternity, were provided with oxygen concentrators, a low cost and efficient device that helps save newborns’ lives.
“This device is really indispensable. With the help of an oxygen concentrator we managed to save lives of about ten per cent of newborns who would otherwise die of conditions that require intensive supply of oxygen,” says Aslanyan.
However, supplies only cannot solve the problem. Broad advocacy, community mobilisation, improved nutritional practices including the promotion of breast feeding and policy changes are required to achieve results that will be sustained in the long term. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health are currently developing a new neonatal strategy that will establish standards for the country’s health providers to follow when taking care of infants and their mothers.
Stamp out neonatal mortality!
Simultaneously with health policy improvements, UNICEF has been working hard to keep the problem of neonatal mortality in the focus of Government’s and public attention and mobilise resources through collaboration with various actors, including the private sector.
It was in early 2008 that a local postal service “HayPost” approached UNICEF with an idea of issuing a joint stamp dedicated to children and based on a child’s drawing. Public perception to the idea was so positive that UNICEF and “HayPost” decided to convert it into a large-scale fundraising and advocacy campaign on saving newborns under the slogan of “Buy Five, Help Save a Life!”.
“UNICEF is the world’s leading children’s organization. HayPost, in turn, places a high priority on social responsibility, and the need to help address outstanding issues in this society. We want to put a special emphasis on meeting the needs of, childen as children are the future of any society and at the same time its most vulnerable part,” said HayPost General Director Hans Boon. “We are very glad to start the cooperation with UNICEF in Armenia with such a significant and useful initiative, and we hope this will become a well-established practice of addressing outstanding issues existing in the society.”
Over 600 children, most of them with special needs or living in institutions, submitted their drawings for a contest with the theme of a “World Fit for Children” announced by UNICEF in February 2008. And, finally, two months later a special board operating under the aegis of the HayPost company and the Ministry of Transport and Communication selected a drawing by 8-year old Eduard Shahbazyan from Yerevan as the contest winner.
On the reverse side of his drawing, Eduard wrote: “I drew myself, my mother and my father inside the sun that spreads its warmth and sheds its light on my family. I drew my mother and my father because like the sun they give me a lot of warmth. I wish that children always feel the warmth of their mothers and fathers.”
The stamp will be the first of its kind ever issued in Armenia. UNICEF will receive 30 AMD (US equivalent of $.10) from the sale of each stamp that will go to support country’s efforts to reduce neonatal mortality. HayPost will also provide to UNICEF advertising space in its roughly 600 post offices throughout the country, providing an important new mechanism to help in social mobilization efforts
“We hope that this campaign will attract strong public attention and additional funds so much needed to stamp out the problem of neonatal mortality in Armenia,” the UNICEF Representative said.
The stamp was officially launched in a ceremony that took place on 2 June 2008 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the participation of Armenia’s high-ranking officials, representatives of international organizations and children.