Yukie Mokuo: Investments to children is key to the successful national development of Ukraine
Kyiv, 28 September 2009 – UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine is one of the most active international organizations. Magazine “Profil” journalists Olesya Leshko interviews new head of UNICEF Yukie Mokuo about Fund’s objectives and priority programmes in country.
Ms. Mokuo, you are getting acquainted with the situation regarding children’s rights and welfare in Ukraine – could you please outline the biggest problem in this domain?
Let me start with my background – I’ve come to Ukraine after spending seven years in Tajikistan. And I haму been astonished by a big disparity between these two countries: they came out of the same soviet system, but their development was very different. Thus, I was very impressed with sophistication of this country, high intellectual capacities of people and a lot of opportunities existing in this country for children. In a low income country UNICEF carries out more humanitarian work, because it relies to the life saving issues – clean water, access to school.
Here, the question is not humanitarian – those basic needs are observed, but there are some issues like access to public health, especially HIV/AIDS issue. And in the case of nutrition, for instance, we are concerned about iodine deficiency which can be easily solved if people start to understand the importance of using iodized salt, which is not happening now. Another important issue is social protection of vulnerable children, especially those who are in institutions or who got in conflict with law. We are concerned about their right to grow up in a family, and it’s even more for kids born with HIV positive mothers and how to overcome the stigma for those children not to be segregated, so they would have good social inclusion practice.
Ukraine has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Europe. How does UNICEF help to address this issue? Do you provide medicines to HIV-infected children?
Let’s talk about vaccination – You should definitely hear about the Ukrainian children’s deaths after been vaccinated. That’s why, parents of many children are concerned that the possible cause of the deaths might be unsafe vaccines. Do you share those concerns?
Worldwide we have a very good scientific ground to say that the most effective public health intervention to protect children against diseases and death is vaccination. And we do believe this is the most cost-effective intervention. If child gets sick the cost might grow higher because the worst case is death, if not a kid gets very sick and there is a lot of treatment.
I am new in Ukraine but I do understand there is some serious concern about vaccine safety and also there were some unfortunate cases of death of children, which are considered to be associated with those vaccines. Ministry of Health has investigated those cases and confirmed that the deaths were not directly caused by the vaccination.
It is important to understand that the risk of complications after vaccinations is significantly lower then the risks of having infectious diseases and as a result serious health complications or even death of a child. There might be some cases when kids are not advised to have a vaccination, but it doesn’t refer to everybody and those cases are rare. For UNICEF, providing comprehensive information about vaccination and restore trust in immunization is one of our priorities. And I do hope we will manage rebuild parents’ confidence in vaccination.
How are you achieving your goals? What instruments do you have for that?
UNICEF has a mandate to support the government to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And we are here to support, we work closely with the government and legislators to have better policy on children-related issue; then we work with the parliament so that they can pass the law more conducive for such policy. But even if the law gets passed it’s necessary to supervise its execution. That’s why, we work with the local authorities to make sure it will work. We conduct training programs for doctors, teachers, social workers. But also we cooperate with a civil society in conducting public information campaigns. That’s why our job is really big and we do not work only on the health issues or education. Child is everything. The potential of Ukraine is enormous, with good resources available and high intellectual capacities: there is no reason why that positive change can’t happen in the best interests of children of Ukraine.
Read full interview in the Ukrainian weekly “Profil”
About UNICEF: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 150 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. UNICEF opened its office in Kyiv in 1997. More information about UNICEF activities in Ukraine at www.unicef.org.ua