Supporting immunization, breastfeeding and universal use of iodized salt in Albania
Poverty and ill-health often find each other company. As the poorest country in Europe, Albania has some of the worst health indicators for women and children. Around 1,000 children die every year before reach their fifth birthday - mostly from preventable illnesses. For those who do survive, they are faced with many challenges such as an alarmingly high malnutrition rate of 22 per cent.
To save more lives and keep children healthy, UNICEF has recently expanded its support to the public health system in Albania. Through funding of the Government of Japan, UNICEF will assist immunization of thousands of children and women against preventable diseases.
Since 2005, the Albanian Government has covered 100 per cent of the vaccine needs for the entire country. Immunization coverage has also reached above 95 per cent at the national level. However, reaching the hard to reach with vaccines and other basic child health interventions remain a significant challenge.
With the funding, UNICEF has provided cold chain equipment including 80 refrigerators to health facilities, enabling public health authorities to deliver quality routine immunization services and emergency immunization in case of a pandemic.
Eliminating iodine deficiency
A study conducted in 2007 by the Albanian Institute of Public Health, supported by UNICEF, indicated that 55 per cent of children suffer from mild to moderate forms of Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD). As the world’s leading cause of mental retardation, iodine deficiency could result in an average loss of 13.5 IQ points, therefore gravely hinder the intellectual development among children.
The survey revealed that only 60 per cent of households in Albania use adequate iodized salt; and a considerable number of women of reproductive age have no knowledge about IDD. Universally, iodization of all salt for human and animal consumption has been adopted as the most cost effective solution to eliminate IDD.
In July 2007, UNICEF supported a sub-regional training course on “Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes” in Tirana, Albania. The International Code, adopted by almost all countries, establishes minimum standards to regulate marketing practices by setting out the responsibilities of companies, health workers and governments and provides standards for the labeling of breast milk substitutes.
Studies have strongly suggested that a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than a child who is not breastfed. The 5-day training offered practical solutions to help the governments strengthen their capacity in drafting, implementing and enforcing the International Code.
Albania is among the few countries in the region that have adopted this code as law. Its exclusive breastfeeding rate at six months has reached 40 per cent compared to 23 per cent in 2002. Despite the significant achievements, challenges remain in the areas such as implementation and monitoring of the law, and increasing the number of maternity hospitals that support breastfeeding as part of their service standards.