|UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, with schoolchildren and members of a Mothers’ Club during his visit to Sierra Leone.|
By Alison Parker and Issa Davies
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 20 July 2009 – UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, made his first visit to Sierra Leone last week to evaluate progress on maternal and child health, education, and water and sanitation in the wake of the country’s long civil war.
“I have been very gratified to observe the steady progress made since the end of the conflict,” he said. “With passion and dedication, you will build a new country.”
Maternal and child care is crucial
On 15 July, the day after arriving, Dr. Rotigliano visited the modern facilities of the Kono Maternity Complex, located in an area that had been hit hard during the conflict. The facility was funded by the Italian National Committee for UNICEF to help address maternal and child health care needs here.
“Since this hospital was opened in August last year, we have witnessed an increase in the number of pregnant women who come here for safe delivery – from 161 patients between July and December 2008 to 262 between January to June this year,” said the Kono District Medical Officer, Dr. Bome.
With one in every eight pregnant Sierra Leonean women at risk of death during childbirth, emergency obstetric care such as the care provided at the Kono complex is critical.
Support for education
At the Peripheral Health Unit in Koaquima town, Dr. Rotigliano met with members of a Mothers’ Club who are promoting the continuum of care for young children – from the pre-natal stage through five years of age – at the community level. The discussion covered issues such as hygiene promotion, healthy nutritional practices for pregnant women and newborn children, exclusive breastfeeding and immunization.
“I have been giving exclusive breast milk to my five-month-old baby, and that is why it is so healthy,” explained Sia, 32, a Mothers’ Club member.
Besides promoting maternal and child health, such clubs also cultivate crops, which help to support healthy nutrition for their children. Some of the proceeds from selling crops are also used to support education for the children – especially girls.
Children foster behavioural change
At the Bandafaye Community School, Dr. Rotigliano spoke with ‘Children’s Government’ members, who explained the importance of education, health and sanitation. The child ‘ministers’ in the Children’s Government act as lead advocates for behavioural change on issues that are vital to the welfare of their peers.
“Wash your hands every day with soap, before eating and after using the toilet, to prevent diarrhoea and cholera,” said Musa, 10, offering advice to his classmates. Musa is ‘Minister of Health’ in the Children’s Government.
“I am very much impressed with your activities, and I hope one day you will be ministers to help in building a brighter future for your country,” Dr. Rotigliano told the children.