Keeping children healthy, for life
By Jason Rush
KYAUK KA LAT, Myanmar, December 2005 - One of the first things you notice when entering the village of Kyauk Ka Lat is the cheerful sound of children’s voices in the salty ocean air. While Kyauk Ka Lat and other tsunami-affected villages have received a range of assistance from UNICEF, the most valuable gift of all has been the healthy children that continue to run through the green fields and dusty lanes of these tsunami-affected communities.
In the days and weeks following the tsunami, UNICEF worked to ensure that children and families were protected against communicable and water-borne diseases – the most acute threat to their health and survival. While these goals were largely realized, children continued to face a range of pre-existing threats to their health.
Today, UNICEF continues to support a full range of initiatives in tsunami-affected areas that are protecting the health, lives and well-being of children.
“UNICEF is providing children in tsunami-affected communities with vitamin A supplements to protect them against blindness and infection, and children in primary school are being given deworming medication to protect them from parasites that can contribute to malnourishment and hinder their growth,” says UNICEF staff member Khin Moe Moe Aung.
UNICEF supplies the vast majority of vitamin A capsules in Myanmar, with more than five million children between six months and five years of age receiving vitamin A this year alone. UNICEF also supports nationwide deworming for children two to nine years of age, and has provided 70 million iron foliate tablets to 350,000 pregnant women across Myanmar this year.
“Providing pregnant women with iron foliate tablets affords them protection against anemia, which can lead to underweight children and complications during birth,” says Khine Moe Moe Aung.
UNICEF-trained auxiliary midwives oversee the administration of these programs in tsunami-affected communities, and monitor the health of children and pregnant women in the villages where they work.
Auxiliary midwife Zar Phyu Wint makes regular home visits in tsunami-affected A Sin Chaing and ten other nearby villages, providing pre-natal care to pregnant women. She helps educate women about the benefits of vitamin A, good nutrition, and proper pre-natal care, and tries to ensure that children are receiving the nutrients they need to grow and flourish.
“Once children begin eating supplementary foods, it’s important for them to have plenty of green and yellow fruits and vegetables, along with vitamin A supplements,” she tells a group of mothers. “This will help ensure that they grow well, boost their body’s resistance to disease, and protect them from vision impairment.”
Clean Water in Schools
“In addition to providing health assistance, UNICEF has equipped schools in tsunami-affected areas with water pumps and water storage tanks, and now the students and their families have easier access to safe, clean water,” says UNICEF staff member Khin Moe Moe Aung.
“More families are also using sanitary latrines now thanks to UNICEF assistance, and UNICEF-supported hygiene education is being provided to students in school.”
Students in Phone Daw Byae Primary School sing a fun, lively song they’ve learned about good hygiene habits. Their voices bounce off the school’s concrete walls as they pantomime washing their hands and face.
“Now that the students have been able to start using proper latrines built with UNICEF assistance, it is much easier for us to teach students about good hygiene,” says Phone Daw Byae Primary School teacher Win Win Pyone.
The lessons haven’t been lost on third-grader Zin Phyo Khine. “We need to use fly-proof latrines, eat clean food, and wash our hands after using the toilet to protect ourselves from diarrhea,” she says.
Through this “triangulated” approach – providing children with medical care and essential nutrients, clean water and sanitary facilities, and by helping them learn about steps they themselves can take to protect and enhance their health – UNICEF is working with tsunami-affected communities to help their children stay healthy not only today, but far into the future.
The challenges are great. Myanmar continues to have among the highest child mortality rates in Southeast Asia, and many families living in remote, coastal areas continue to lack access to dependable medical care and other basic social services for their children. UNICEF and its partners are working to reach more of these disadvantaged children, not only in tsunami-affected areas but throughout Myanmar, to provide them with the basic health care and social services they need.
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