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UNICEF commends joint action to protect children and women

ABUJA, 27 May, 2010 - The synchronization of Nigeria Children’s Day and the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Week marks a new synergy that promises to make a lasting and sustainable impact for children, says UNICEF. The children’s fund commends the ministries of Health and of Women and Social Development, the two most important agencies of government in the lives of children and women, for combining their energies and resources to improving essential services to children and women across the country.
 
The interventions during the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health week include promoting antenatal care for pregnant women and best practices in caring for newborns; immunizations, Vitamin A supplements and deworming medicines for young children; and distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, consistent use of which is key to the prevention of malaria. 
 
Child and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria have declined but they are still high, so it is vital that these high-impact, life-saving services reach the entire population. Child and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria have declined but they are still high, so it is vital that these high-impact, life-saving services reach the entire population.
 
Nutrition—or lack of it—plays a central role in the survival, growth and cognitive development of a child, underscored by the theme for this year’s Children’s Day celebration, “Partnering for improved nutrition for mother and child.” Children who are undernourished have lower resistance to infection and are more likely to die from common childhood ailments such as malaria, diarrhoeal diseases or respiratory infections.
 
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life—only breastmilk, nothing else, not even water—ensures that a baby receives adequate nutrition, and is protective against infections and other diseases. However, the Government of Nigeria’s 2008 Demographic and Health Survey shows that the exclusive breastfeeding rate has declined to 13%, which is disappointing considering the impressive progress—from 1% to 17%—that had been registered from 1990 to 2003. This low exclusive breastfeeding rate is a missed opportunity even in states with high antenatal care coverage and corresponds to the high prevalence of severe acute malnutrition.
 
There are various reasons for cases of malnutrition in the country. Food insecurity is one of them but poor feeding habits are a major contributing factor, including low rates of exclusive breastfeeding and poor quality complementary feeding of children after the age of 6 months. Micronutrient deficiency is a direct cause of child morbidity and mortality. Micronutrients such as iron, iodine, and vitamin A are necessary for the healthy development of children. Their absence in the diet causes serious disorders.
 
UNICEF recognises the burden of malnutrition in Nigeria and the need for scaled up action and is working with several state governments to reduce the incidence through projects for community management of acute malnutrition, which save children’s lives.
 
“Let all of us who are working for children,” urged UNICEF Representative, Dr Suomi Sakai, “to use this Children’s Day to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t so we can fashion strategies to make a better life for them.”

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