|© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2009|
|Polio vaccine is administered to six-month-old Ishmael during Sierra Leone’s Mother and Child Health Week.|
By Issa Davies and David Shoo
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 25 June 2009 – Baindu Sesay, 40, hails from Pepel village, Port Loko, north of Freetown, but she and her family were visiting relatives in the south-eastern city of Kenema during the ‘Mami en Pikin Well Bodi’ campaign (also known as Mother and Child Health Week) that took place across the country earlier this month.
Ms. Sesay took her youngest child, six-month-old Ishmael, to the health fair kicking off the week in Kenema so that he could benefit from polio vaccination, de-worming and vitamin A supplementation, among other interventions.
This is the second time UNICEF has collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the World Health Organization, Helen Keller International, Save the Children UK, Concern Worldwide, the Sierra Leone Red Cross and other stakeholders in mobilizing funds, resources and expertise to organize a Mother and Child Health Week here.
Integrated health campaign
The campaign, targeting over 1 million children under the age of five, aims to prevent illness and death – thereby reducing Sierra Leone’s under-five mortality rate, which is the world’s highest. The bi-annual integrated health initiative covers all of the country’s 13 districts.
More than 1,000 pregnant women and mothers turned out for the Kenema health fair on the opening day of the recent health week. Also on hand was the Second Lady of Sierra Leone, Madam Kadijatu Sam-Sumana, who is married to Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana.
“Traditional leaders should ensure that women and children make use of the health facilities that are available in their communities,” she said. “We hope that the high rates of maternal and infant mortality will be reduced by next year.”
Added UNICEF Representative Geert Cappelaere, who spoke on behalf of the UN Country Team in Sierra Leone: “We can guarantee that every child will be vaccinated against polio, every woman will receive vaccines and every child will be breastfed exclusively and grow healthily.”
Health and hygiene messages
The mothers and babies at the fair received health and hygiene education, including information about the importance of handwashing with soap, exclusive breastfeeding, nutrition and malaria prevention.
|© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2009|
|Madam Kadijatu Sam-Sumana, wife of Sierra Leone’s Vice President, demonstrates handwashing with soap inside UNICEF’s booth at the Mother and Child Health Week fair Kenema, Sierra Leone.|
Malaria is a leading cause of illness and death among children under five in Sierra Leone. It accounts for over 40 per cent of all cases reported at health facilities.
“I had given birth to nine children, but two died of malaria before they could reach their first birthdays,” said Ms. Sesay. “Then I had no idea of the importance of sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets, but now my baby and I sleep under bed nets.”
Preventable child deaths
The ‘Mami en Pikin Well Bodi’ campaign was immediately followed by a week-long yellow fever immunization campaign in five districts – Kenema, Moyamba, Kono, Kailahun and Pujehun – targeting every person above the age of nine months.
Ms. Sesay and her family received the vaccinations.
“This campaign has certainly made my child to grow in good health, and I want it to continue every year so that many babies in Sierra Leone – especially those within the age of five – will stop dying of preventable diseases,” she said.