UNICEF believes that the first five years of a child’s life are the most vital for healthy development. These early years are some of the most vulnerable in a child’s life and positive influences to their health help ensure a good start in life.
Integrated services for child survival and birth registration
The rate of under five mortality in The Gambia is about 131 for every thousand children. Despite this figure, under five mortality has seen improvement in the past five years - Gambian children are benefiting from UNICEF’s integrated services approach to reduce child mortality and manage illnesses in a timely matter. The method is to create a “one stop shop” of services, emphasizing on prevention and timely initiation of treatment through routine reproductive and child health services immunizations, and sensitization on the importance of adequate nutrition, prevention of illnesses as well as voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) of HIV/AIDS. About 90 per cent of children receive routine immunizations through the expanded immunization programme that is available at every health facility in the country. Because of the integrated services, coverage of Vitamin A supplements for children and lactating mothers is on the increase. These same health facilities sensitize mothers on the importance of insecticide treated bed-nets (ITNs) to prevent malaria. The Gambia has shown progress in scaling up ITN use. The number of children under age five sleeping under an ITN has surged from 15 per cent in 2000 to 49 per cent in 2006.
The integrated service has also helped the increase of birth registration of children under five years. Mother’s take their baby to health clinics for birth registration, after the traditional naming ceremony – a week after the baby is born. Because of the accessibility of birth registration through the integrated approach, birth registration of children under five years has increased to 55 per cent from 32 percent in 2002.
The integrated services are widely available for children under five years and mothers. For hard to reach children, mobile out-reach health posts are available. Nation-wide campaigns and door to door immunizations also take place to supplement the routine programme.
Early child development
Studies have shown that children encouraged learning at an early age are more likely to enroll in school and complete primary school. UNICEF promotes early learning and stimulation in the development of children under five years, through an early child development programme (ECD). The programme makes available preschool activities to poor and hard to reach children. The programme helps ensure school “readiness” for children. It also helps ensure that the technical capacity and planning are in place for children to fully benefit. UNICEF promotes ECD facilitators, parental education and the provision of teaching and learning materials through an “essential learning package”