UNICEF flagship report says community health programs are key to reducing child mortality
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, 22 January 2008 – Fatma, 2, is one of the thousands of Kenyan children whose lives have been saved by a cheap and simple preventive health measure.
The mass distribution of insecticide-treated bednets in Kenya has halved deaths from malaria in the past five years. Its success is part of a range of community-based health programs that, UNICEF believes, hold the key to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds – and achieving other MDGs – by 2015.
The programs span the globe – from universal salt iodisation in Turkmenistan, which has helped eliminate iodine deficiency disorder, to a community centre in Argentina that gives support to disabled children with special needs. These initiatives have different aims, but they achieve the same purpose of tackling children’s health problems cost-effectively.
Maternal and child health
UNICEF’s flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2008, which was released today in Geneva, says the health needs of women, mothers and newborn children must be a priority if the MDGs are to be met. The new information in The State of the World’s Children 2008 is drawn from household survey data as well as material from key partners, including the World Health Organisation and the World Bank.
Among the speakers and attendees of today’s launch ceremony were UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman; Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Margaret Chan; Vice President of the World Bank’s Human Development Network, Joy Phumaphi; and Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union, Bience P. Gawanas.
“The world has seen progress in child survival and with the right partnerships, policies and programs, even more can be achieved,” said Ms. Veneman during a press conference in Geneva. “The challenge is to reach the millions of children and families who continue to go without adequate, preventative and curative care.”
A development priority
UNICEF believes that the political leaders of the G8 industrialised nations must address child health as not just a moral imperative but also a development priority. And experience has shown that the benefits of community health spread far beyond just children.
The bednet campaign in Kenya, for example, has led to the corollary effect of improving the country’s productivity, because malaria is the primary cause of workplace absenteeism. In Turkmenistan, where children like Atabay Uzbayev, 13, no longer have to worry about the debilitating effects of iodine deficiency, they are free to plan a future.
“I want to get higher education when I grow up. I want to enter the university and study math,” said Atabay.
“Investing in the health of children and their mothers is a sound economic decision and one of the surest ways for a country to set its course towards a better future,” said the World Bank’s Human Development Network Vice-President, Joy Phumaphi.
Added the World Health Organisation’s Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan: “Innovative programs in many countries show that an integrated approach, where each child is reached with a package of interventions at one time, can bring immediate benefits."