Six members of the UNICEF Executive Board visited programmes for children and women in Ghana last week. Here is a report on their findings.
ACCRA, Ghana, 17 May 2011 – Under the shade of a mango tree, out of the searing heat, Kubura Mahamdu bounced her healthy six-month-old daughter, Hajaru, on her knee. She recalled how, just a few weeks earlier, Hajaru began sweating as her temperature climbed. With the nearest clinic a few hours’ walk away, Ms. Mahamdu called a local volunteer health worker who had been trained by UNICEF. The health worker diagnosed and treated Hajaru’s bout of malaria.
VIDEO: 13 May 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on the UNICEF Executive Board visit to Ghana, which appears to be on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals as a result of recent economic progress.
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The illness easily could have been fatal; malaria is the biggest killer of children in Ghana. But through interventions like this, the government and its partners – including UNICEF – have reduced mortality among children under five by a third in recent years.
With its growing economy, Ghana is on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty. It also has one of the highest primary school enrolment rates on the continent. Still, many challenges remain.
UNICEF’s Executive Board members visited Ghana to assess the country’s progress and the organization’s response to those challenges. During their week-long trip, they met with the Vice President, government ministers and international partners. In addition, they visited project sites in the country’s northern regions, meeting with local community leaders, women and children.
Ghana has recently edged itself into the middle-income bracket, but even in Accra, the centre of the country’s wealth and economic success, pockets of poverty remain.
Pockets of poverty
Ghana has recently edged itself into the middle-income bracket among the world’s nations, but even in Accra, the centre of the country’s wealth and economic success, pockets of poverty remain. Executive Board members and a group of UNICEF-supported youth journalists visited Jamestown, a poor area of Accra, to talk with residents about the issues they face.
In one home, the delegation visited three extended families who share a tiny house and courtyard, sleeping as many as 10 to a room. Since there are no toilets, they have to share a public one with hundreds of other residents. And despite Ghana’s success in primary school enrolment, the children here, like many in Jamestown, don’t go to school.
The Executive Board members were surprised at the level of poverty.
“There are many parts of Accra that need international aid,” said Barbara Kremžar, Minister Counsellor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Slovenia. “I think that the biggest mistake that we could make would be to go out of the country now, because it’s still fragile. We need to continue our work until the country is well equipped with the knowledge to work on its own”
Hope for young people
In fact, Ghana’s growing economy is itself a challenge in some ways. The capital has become a beacon of hope to the rural poor, attracting runaway children – as well as child traffickers.
The Executive Board members visited a safe house for runaway and trafficked children in Accra. Supported by UNICEF, the safe house tries to reunite broken families even as it houses and cares for alleged juvenile offenders awaiting trial. The centre provides young people with legal assistance and teaches them marketable skills such as jewellery making and beauty treatment. It also offers them hope.
“This centre is very important for their future, because we look at rehabilitating these children,” said safe house manager Georgina Mensah. “Some of them don’t have any hope for the future. But when they get here, through counselling, we let them know that all hope is not lost.”
UNICEF Executive Board members meet with government officials and partners during a visit to Ghana to assess the country’s progress and UNICEF’s response to remaining areas of concern.
Sanitation and health in the north
Even with Ghana’s increasing wealth, 28 per cent of the population remains in poverty. Nowhere is this clearer than in the country’s north.
In some districts – including Savelugu Nanton, near Tamale – most of the population lives below the poverty line, and primary school enrolment is lower than the national average. Access to safe water, sanitation and health services are all major issues here.
That’s why Ghana’s three northern regions are the focus of UNICEF’s country programme.
Reduction in illnesses
The Executive Board members visited a community clinic in the northern village of Nanton, where nurses work alongside volunteer health workers trained by UNICEF to prevent the country’s top childhood killers: diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition.
The delegation also met with the chiefs of Nanton, Gbandu and other villages. The villagers noted that since a UNICEF-supported sanitation programme began locally – building pit latrines and mapping defecation-free areas – there have been fewer illnesses.
Ghana has focused on the delivery of safe water, as well. Combined with improved access to sanitation, this has meant the almost total eradication of the debilitating Guinea worm.
Results for all
“Our visits to these communities were very, very rewarding,” said Executive Board member Gail Farngalo, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Liberia. “I got the chance to see first-hand the appreciation that the people in the communities have for the progress they’ve made with regard to sanitation and the affordability of clean, safe drinking water.”
Ghana still has a long way to go, but with a strong economy, committed leadership, progressive policies and strong partnerships, the country has everything it needs to develop socially and accelerate the achievement of results for all its people.