KHARTOUM, 28 APRIL 2011: OP-ED : WORLD MALARIA DAY & VACCINATION WEEK IN SUDAN: WHY IT MATTERS
By Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Representative, Sudan
To measure Sudan’s success in battling the scourge of malaria, you need look no further than the numbers. In 2001, the disease struck down an estimated 7.5 million Sudanese, of whom 35,000 -- adults and children alike – did not survive.
The heavy human cost exacted by malaria prompted the Government and the international community to join hands in a particularly effective collaboration, focusing on the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and a persuasive communication campaign.
It worked. By 2009, malaria cases had fallen by nearly 70 per cent, to 2.3 million, causing 8,844 deaths. The burden of the disease was still heavy, but the reduction in incidence of the disease was nothing short of remarkable.
President Bashir hailed this achievement at an event marking World Malaria day last Sunday. The President noted that malaria took a particularly heavy toll on children and young people, while undermining the education system and national economic production. He called on state governors to ensure that anti-malaria efforts get the funds and other support they need.
Provided this drive against malaria is maintained, Sudan stands a good chance of achieving a key Millennium Development Goal target (to have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases). In the process, it will have scored a major advance against a disease which has been the scourge of humankind since the beginning of recorded history.
World Malaria Day in 2011 coincided with the commemoration of another event of equal significance for the health of children. This year’s Vaccination Week – sponsored by the World Health Organisation – is being implemented across Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East under the theme “partnerships for immunization”.
Since 1952, UNICEF has worked side by side with the government and civil society towards the goal of ensuring that all Sudanese children receive the unique life-saving health benefits of immunization.
The effects have been widely felt. In 2004, for example, WHO data recorded 9,562 cases of measles in Sudan. The response was a series of campaigns which saw 10.6 million children in the 15 northern states receive measles vaccine. By 2009, confirmed measles cases had fallen to just 68. (2011 has seen an increase in measles incidence, mostly in the single state of North Kordofan, where a fresh immunization round was conducted in March).
This impressive effort to tackle measles has been matched by progress against polio. In 1980, 4,151 children suffered the crippling and irreversible effects of the poliomyelitis virus. Over the following years, succession of nationwide vaccination drives reached some six million children. The last polio case was reported in March 2009, and north Sudan has been free of the disease since then.
Even so, the challenges remain immense. The number of Sudanese mothers who die in childbirth remains appallingly high -- 9,296 annually according to the 2008 census, although many other cases will have gone unrecorded.
Diarrhoea – one of the big killers of children – is another challenge still to be properly addressed. The 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey showed that over a quarter of under5s had suffered from the illness in the two weeks before the data was collected. Health professionals regard diarrhoea as one of the main causes of infant and child illness and mortality – not surprisingly, given the low proportion of the population who have access to good hygiene, sanitation and improved drinking water.
The message from last Sunday’s event was clear: a combination of political will, clear targeting of programmes, and the application of the necessary funds can go an enormous distance towards saving the lives of mothers and children.
Getting the facts straight is the first step. In the years to come, UNICEF will work to ensure that state governments have a clear grasp of how many children are born, how many die, how many enter or drop out of school.
Armed with this key data, and provided the commitment expressed by President Bashir translates into stronger budgetary allocations, we can begin to make real strides towards making Sudan a place where each and every child not only survives, but thrives.