The first three years of a child’s life are critical from the perspective of child health and development. UNICEF Turkmenistan works with the government to ensure that every child has the best possible start – a safe, registered birth, proper nutrition and access to immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Around 100,000 babies are born every year in Turkmenistan. And like children all over the world, these newborns face numerous challenges on the road to adulthood.
Once considered a challenge, universal immunization is today Turkmenistan’s biggest strength. Almost every child is immunized against six vaccine preventable diseases mostly before its first birthday. Today, Turkmenistan boasts the highest infant immunization coverage in Central Asia. Data reveals that 98 per cent of one-year old children receive DPT 3 and 99 per cent are immunized against measles. Turkmenistan was certified as polio-free as early as 2002.
Together with the WHO, UNICEF facilitated the introduction of the WHO-recommended live-birth definition in Turkmenistan. This has helped to understand issues relating to infant mortality. With the Safe Motherhood Programme approved by the government in 2006 that provides funds to the Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative, over 85 per cent of infants are now born in safe environments. Government funding has also been secured for providing micronutrients, immunization and essential drugs for the integrated management of childhood illnesses. The use of iodized salt has reached 86 per cent according to an assessment in 2007.
The government and UNICEF have conducted a joint campaign to encourage exclusive breastfeeding – a safe, healthy and economic practice that was once practiced by less than 49 per cent of Turkmen women. Today, health workers have observed a renewed awareness of its benefits. “Exclusive breastfeeding is the first ‘vaccine’ the child gets from the rich colostrum in the mother’s milk,” says Rita Yelisaeva, a chief paediatrician in one of Turkmenistan’s northern provinces.
The government is also working with UNICEF to further reduce infant and child mortality by expanding its programme in each of the country’s five provinces or velayats to combat childhood illnesses. Acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases remain the leading causes of infant and childhood mortality in the country. Although significant improvements have been made, the goal is to further reduce under five mortality from 50 to 33 per 1,000 live births.