By Kutloano Leshomo
ASMARA, Eritrea, 16 December 2008 - UNICEF Eritrea and the Ministry of Health launched the 2008 State of Africa’s Children Report last month in the Eritrean capital of Asmara. The regional publication shows that Eritrea is one of 16 countries in the world currently on track to achieve MDG 4 - reducing child mortality.
The Deputy Regional Director for ESARO, Dorothy Rozga, commended the Government of the State of Eritrea for the progress it has made regarding child survival. She noted that Eritrea’s under-five mortality declined by roughly 50 per cent.
“Eritrea has provided an example that if concerted efforts are made, a lot can be achieved for children,” she said.
UNICEF Representative Eva Johansson pledged UNICEF’s support to help the government sustain the progress it is making towards achieving the MDGs.
“You are a living example that a country with leadership for children is a country devoted to achieving important national and international milestones for children,” she said.
’Children should not pay the price’
Since gaining independence in 1991, Eritrea has made a concerted effort to improve its healthcare system. In his keynote speech at the launch, the Minister of Health, Mr. Saleh Meki, outlined the interventions that have been put in place.
High immunization coverage has led to a decrease in vaccine-preventable diseases. Since 2006, over 90 per cent of children have received Vitamin A supplementation. Eritrea is polio free and there have been no measles deaths in the past two years. Maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated. There have also been sharp reductions in malaria morbidity and mortality due to increases in the use of insecticide treated nets and community mobilisation efforts.
“Children should not pay the price for lack of good healthcare. We have worked very hard in the past years and therefore hope to achieve progress in reducing child mortality,” concluded Mr. Meki.
Despite this progress, some challenges remain for Eritrea. Neonatal mortality accounts for 50 per cent of infant deaths and 26 per cent of under-five mortality. There are already efforts to include the neonatal component into the existing Community Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses, as well as in the safe motherhood and reproductive health programmes.
The Minister called for further efforts to collect data and to take action to address the challenges of improving child and maternal health.
UNICEF is committed to working with the government to turn such challenges into opportunities to secure a brighter future for Eritrean children.