A combination of effective government initiatives and strong political support for the rights of children mean that the outlook for an Egyptian boy or girl born in 2004 is considerably brighter than it was a decade ago.
Egypt was one of the first 20 countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and was one of the initiator countries for the 1990 World Summit for Children. This record, plus the landmark passing of a comprehensive Childhood Law in 1996, has resulted in important gains for Egyptian children.
A strong sense of political commitment was underlined when, in 2002, President Hosni Mubarak launched the second Decade for the Protection of the Egyptian Child. Among its main goals, the Declaration included increasing health insurance coverage to 90 percent of children and providing vaccination coverage to more than 95 percent of children.
Today most Egyptian children enjoy their most basic right, the right to survival. In the past decade, there has been a 50 percent reduction in the number of children who die before their fifth birthday--a very significant achievement. Unfortunately, about one out of every 20 still do not survive these crucial years, and mortality among children remains much higher in Upper Egypt than in the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, the halving in the rate of maternal mortality over the same period is also a positive trend because it means that fewer children must grow up without their mothers.
Between infancy and age 5, an Egyptian child is most likely to fall seriously ill from diarrhoeal disease or respiratory infection. These two threats alone account for around 45 percent of deaths among infants.
Thanks to a successful national programme of vaccination, however, the threat a child faces from immunisable disease is much reduced. According to the Ministry of Health and Population, 97 per cent of infants and young children are now immunized against the six main immunisable diseases (tuberculosis, pertussis, polio, measles, diphtheria, tetanus).
By 2004, Egypt – while still considered a polio-endemic country – was on the brink of eradicating the disease, thanks to intensive efforts by government and international partners.
At the same time, progress against measles has been more uneven. While it is hard to assess the situation accurately because reporting is inconsistent, it seems that even though more and more children are being vaccinated against this potentially dangerous disease, the number of cases is remaining more or less the same.
A significant number of children do not eat as well as they should and suffer from chronic malnutrition. The result is that almost one in five young children is below average height, with children in Upper Egypt worse affected than their counterparts in northern areas.
Such children risk having less energy for school and other activities, being more susceptible to infection, and being hit harder by diseases and infections. In addition, a worrying proportion of children suffer suffer from iron-deficiency anemia, with potentially serious repercussions for their long-term health.