© UNICEF Serbia/Dusan Milenkovic

For UNICEF, a healthy childhood for every child is not just about the availability of health services. It is about connecting health services to the children who are in the greatest need.

In Serbia, this means changing ‘business as usual’ health approaches that reach the majority of children but do not always reach the most marginalized. It also means looking beyond health services to address the barriers that deter some families from claiming their fundamental right to health care.

Serbia’s child death rates have been almost halved in ten years. With seven deaths before the age five for every 1,000 live births, the country is now on a par with some EU countries, such as Hungary and Poland. But overall progress masks serious problems.

The challenges

  • Mortality rates among Roma children are more than twice as high as the national average, with most deaths taking place in the first year of life. Roma children are twice as likely to be born underweight, and children from the poorest Roma families are up to five times more likely to be underweight than the national average.
  • There is a disconnect between health services and the wider range of services needed to support the families of children with disabilities.
  • There are serious concerns about Serbia’s low breastfeeding rates, which have fallen in recent years.
  • Violence against children remains a major issue, with too few measures in place to identify and help victims, despite recent legislation and protocols.

What we do

UNICEF helps to build connections and tackle the barriers to a healthy childhood. Our support for Roma Health Mediators, for example, helps to connect Roma settlements to local health services while addressing such barriers to health as the lack of health insurance.

Our support for training, guidelines and standards for health professionals helps them meet their obligations to marginalized children. Our development of Baby- and Mother-friendly standards and guidelines, is helping to reverse the decline in breastfeeding and ensure that health services provide the best possible support for early childhood development, supporting both children and their parents at this crucial time. And our work on violence gives professionals across all sectors – including health – the skills and approaches they need to help children suffering abuse.

Building the evidence

  • UNICEF provides key data on child well-being through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys
  • Our evaluation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) has led to the development of Baby- and Mother-friendly standards for maternity hospitals and primary health centres.

Roma Health Mediators (RHMs) provide vital data on Roma families, with laptops and software provided through an innovative tri-partite partnership between the Ministry of Health, Telenor (a Norwegian telecommunications firm) and UNICEF.

© UNICEF Serbia/Zoran Jovanovic Maccak

Strengthening systems

  • UNICEF works across sectors to build a comprehensive approach to child health, recognizing that true health is about more than health services themselves.
  • We have developed new health guidelines that cover early childhood development, children with disabilities and the specific health needs of adolescents.
  • Our wider work on violence aims to mainstream monitoring and response into the daily work of the health sector.
  • We support the Ministry of Health on the introduction of Baby- and Mother-friendly standards, with a strong focus on support for breastfeeding and on better communication between professionals and new parents.

Creating social accountability

  • UNICEF aims to generate demand for health services. Roma Health Mediators, for example, encourage Roma families to claim their rights to health, connecting them to health services.
  • At the same time, we help health professionals fulfill their accountability when it comes to child health. We have developed and reinforced indicators, standards and guidelines to help health professionals identify and support the most marginalized children, and we share that information with the wider public.

Working in partnership

  • UNICEF brokers partnerships to reinforce monitoring of the health status of the most vulnerable and excluded children.
  • Our support for Baby- and Mother-friendly standards includes partnership with civil society organizations that carry out independent monitoring of maternity hospital care to ensure that these standards are integrated into regular health systems.
  • We have developed an innovative partnership between Telenor, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, which is contributing technical know-how and equipment to support the work of the Roma Health Mediators.






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