|© UNICEF Madagascar/2006/Toky|
|During Madagascar’s Mother and Child Health Weeks, children under five and women of childbearing age receive a package of life-saving interventions.|
By Misbah M. Sheikh
UNICEF’s flagship annual report, ‘The State of the World’s Children’, launched on 11 December, focuses this year on the double dividend of gender equality, which helps both women and children overcome poverty. Here is one in a series of related stories.
BELOBAKAY FOKONTANY, Madagascar, 19 December 2006 – “Good morning! Rise and shine! Mothers! Don’t forget to take your children to the health centre today! Husbands, don’t forget to send your pregnant wives! Grandmothers! Grandfathers, I am counting on you to remind everyone in your household about the importance of this week!”
With these words, amplified through a large white bullhorn, Joseph Martin, President of Belobakay Fokontany – a village on the western coast of Madagascar – reminds the members of his community that this week is different from all others.
For the first time on this island of 17 million inhabitants, children under five and women of childbearing age will receive a package of life-saving interventions as part of Mother and Child Health Week.
While Madagascar has made remarkable advances in improving child survival, saving some 40,000 lives a year, another 60,000 children under five continue to die each year from preventable causes such as malaria and diarrhoea.
“International studies have shown that 63 per cent of these deaths can be prevented through the delivery of an integrated package of services,” explains UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Bruno Maes. “This is why the success of these weeks is so important.”
‘Outreach is necessary’
These special weeks will take place every year in April and October. Launched by the Ministry of Health, they’re an opportunity for health services to reach out to communities and ensure that children under five receive vitamin A, de-worming tablets and anti-malarial treatment – and that mothers are vaccinated against tetanus, get folic acid (to help prevent anaemia) and insecticide-treated bed nets, and are tested for HIV.
“Outreach is necessary,” continues Mr. Maes, “because only 39 per cent of the country’s population avails of health services.”
And what makes the outreach possible is the work of some 16,800 mobilizers like Mr. Martin. Thanks to their energy and dedication, the Mother and Child Health Weeks are expected to reach 4.1 million children and 2.8 million women with this integrated package of services – bringing Madagascar a step closer to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of reducing infant and child mortality by 2015.
UNICEF Policy on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Girls and Women