Rwanda has achieved the highest improvement in child survival in East and Southern Africa with under-five mortality falling by two-thirds since 1990.
Maternal mortality, too, has considerably reduced from 1,500 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 487 today. However, over 23,000 children under the age of five, continue to die annually from diseases like diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection and malaria.
In addition, 44% of children under five years old suffer from chronic malnutrition (are shorter than they should be for their height, thereby leaving them stunted), which poses a serious threat to their mental and physical development, particularly since malnutrition has been identified as an underlying factor in 43% of deaths in children under five (DHS 2010).
Causes include insufficient food intake, recurrent illnesses, a lack of knowledge on infant and young child feeding practices, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, poor primary health care and household food insecurity. Inadequate nutrition amongst pregnant women also contributes to a higher than average rate of babies born with low birth weight - low birth weight is a casual factor in a high proportion of neonatal deaths.
In addition, a quarter of the population still does not have access to an improved drinking water source or adequate sanitation, with even less (10% only) practicing hand-washing (DHS 2010). Even though many households can access a community water point, few Rwandans have running water in their homes. Furthermore in spite of the number of access points available, many people cannot afford clean tap water and collect water from local streams and ponds, which puts them at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.
In rural areas, the distance to a water source imposes a significant burden on women and girls, who are the primary water carriers for their families. This affects the quality of women’s and girls’ lives, particularly with regards to their access to education. Children are more vulnerable than any other age group to the ill effects of unsafe water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene.
What is UNICEF doing?
Rwanda is committed to improving child survival and has taken impressive measures to expand access to quality care, increase immunization coverage and ensure a well-developed community based health worker system. UNICEF will continue to support the development of Rwanda’s health care system, under the umbrella of the UN in Rwanda, to reach the most vulnerable children by: