ACCRA, 1 November 2006 – In an unprecedented attempt to save the lives of 20,000 infants and children in the coming year, Ghana today began nationwide distribution of 2.1 million long-lasting bed nets as part of a massive integrated child health campaign.
During the week-long campaign, millions of children will be immunized against measles and polio and given Vitamin A supplements. Children in the three northern regions of the country will be de-wormed. For the first time in Ghana’s history of national immunization days, all children under two will be given insecticide-treated bed nets free of charge.
The campaign, led by Ghana’s Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service, is being implemented against the startling backdrop of national infant and child mortality rates that have failed to improve over the last five years. Some 80,000 children under the age of five die every year in Ghana, most of them from preventable or treatable diseases.
“This campaign is a tremendous opportunity for Ghana to prevent the needless deaths of our young children,” said the Minister of Health, Honourable Courage Quashigah. “Far more children in Ghana deserve to get the best start in life, and it is our duty to ensure that this happens. The campaign is one of many strong commitments on the government’s part to reduce child mortality.”
Malaria is hyper-endemic in Ghana and responsible for one-quarter of all under-five deaths in Ghana every year. The consistent use of treated bed nets could reduce all-cause child mortality in Ghana by 20 per cent, but usage by children under five and pregnant women remains low. In addition to providing free treated bed nets, families are being urged to sleep under the nets through long-term community education campaigns.
The Vitamin A supplementation will provide children with one of the most critical micronutrients required for good health in a child’s early years. The measles and polio vaccines will help to ensure that Ghana continues its good record with these diseases: there have been no reported measles deaths since a 2002 national measles campaign, and no polio cases since 2003.
Teams of health workers and volunteers will provide the campaign services at 9,500 immunization posts across the country. Over 28,000 volunteers were trained in the run-up to the campaign. 1.5 million leaflets alerting parents to the campaign were distributed to all primary schools. Local journalists attended workshops on their role in averting malaria deaths. Faith-based organizations and churches were called upon to help mobilize communities.
“What we are doing through this campaign is not only to ensure that we work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but also to invest in the future – the children of Ghana,” said Dr. Joaquim Saweka, World Health Organization Representative in Ghana. “We are making a lot of savings by ensuring that our children are protected against measles, polio, Vitamin A deficiency and malaria all at once.”
The campaign is another welcome step for Ghanaian children, in a series of recent efforts by the Government of Ghana to prevent the deaths of young children. After a successful pilot in the Upper East Region of Ghana, the government adopted ‘High Impact Rapid Delivery’ (HIRD) as a nationwide strategy to boost Ghana’s chances of achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, the reduction of child and maternal mortality.
HIRD delivers a series of proven, low-cost health interventions in the heart of communities where families lack access to healthcare facilities and knowledge on how to manage common childhood diseases.
The government has also invested in scaling up the Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) initiative, which complements the HIRD approach by positioning community health nurses closer to communities and allowing community members to become more active participants in the provision of their own healthcare.
During the first two days of the campaign, the Minister of Health and Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs will visit the Upper West Region of Ghana, the area with the country’s highest child mortality rate, to help ensure its successful implementation. Other dignitaries will also support other Regions.
The Government of Japan, UNICEF, UK Department for International Development, World Health Organization, Ghana Red Cross Society, World Bank, Measles Initiative, Rotary International, USAID, major development partners of the health sector and the private sector are supporting the campaign.
“This campaign is an important step in the fight to improve the health of Ghana's children. The inclusion of insecticide-treated bed nets for the first time, by providing protection against malaria and other preventable illnesses, will significantly enhance under-five children's chance of survival,” said Mike Hammond, Director of the UK Department for International Development in Ghana.
“When children’s lives are at stake, you cannot stop at ordinary measures,” said Dorothy Rozga, UNICEF Ghana Representative. “With this campaign Ghana is taking that extraordinary step we need to save young lives. This is a huge investment that will pay off for families, communities and the entire nation.”
The Measles Initiative, launched in 2001, is a partnership committed to reducing measles deaths globally, with the goal of cutting measles deaths by 90% by 2010 compared to 2000. During its first five years (2001-2005), the Initiative supported the vaccination of more than 213 million children in Africa, saving 1.2 million lives. Through these efforts, measles cases and deaths have dropped by 48% worldwide and by 60% in Africa, where measles deaths and disability are highest. Building on its success in Africa, the Initiative has expanded into Asia. The Initiative increasingly provides additional life-saving health interventions in its campaigns, including vitamin A, de-worming medicine and insecticide-treated nets for malaria prevention. The Measles Initiative has mobilized more than $200 million to support campaigns in more than 43 countries in Africa and Asia. Leading these efforts are the American Red Cross, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and World Health Organization. For more information or to make a donation, log on to www.measlesinitiative.org.
About UNICEF For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.