More than 16,000 Congolese Children Will Be Saved by 2013 through the ‘Life Savers’ Initiative
Brazzaville Congo, 23 December 2008 - Great ideas often have humble beginnings. Such is the story of “Les Gestes qui Sauvent," (Life Savers), which started in March 2008, when a group of committed individuals from all religious groups in the Republic of Congo, led by the Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF, developed a ground breaking initiative to harness the power of religious groups to accelerate child survival in the Congo. Today, ‘Les Gestes qui Sauvent’ is more than an idea, it is a reality.
“This Christmas, Congolese children will not only get toys as presents; they will get the right to live,” said Brazzaville’s Archbishop, Anatole Milandou. Indeed, in Congo, more than 12% of children die before reaching age 5, 80% because of health problems that can be prevented or treated like malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections, malnutrition and neonatal infections. While access to health services and essential commodities is critical, many life saving behaviors can be implemented by the caregivers themselves. For example exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, sleeping under an insecticide treated mosquito net or hand washing can reduce child mortality by 13, 7% and 3% respectively.
Ensuring caregivers, and particularly (future) mothers, know and practice these behaviors is the whole purpose of the initiative. This means training 200,000 women and girls to use 12 simple, inexpensive, easy to practice household behaviors, to prevent or treat diseases that kill most children in the Congo. Religious groups are key partners for reaching these women, because in Congo, 95% of the population is practicing a faith. Thus, working in partnership with faith based organizations will not only ensure excellent geographical coverage but also good credibility, at a very low marginal cost. Indeed, the religious groups will use their own channels (parishes’, preachers and religious leaders) and networks (women’s prayer groups, learning groups, social assistance groups, choir, drama groups, etc.) to ensure this training.
“This initiative is already inspiring other stakeholders to build strategic alliances for children. “Les Gestes qui sauvent” will be complemented with a “Téléphone qui Sauve” (lifesaving telephone) for counseling caregivers of sick children, thanks to the support of the WARID mobile telephone company,” said, Vanormelingen. Not only will WARID operate a hotline around the clock, 7 days a week, but they also supported the printing of the 200,000 caregiver booklets. Another local company, Burotop, is also printing all the 15,000 training materials.
“In Congo, one in every eight children dies before reaching the age of five, however it is possible to save them…The “Les Gestes qui sauvent" initiative will contribute by 50% to the reduction of child mortality in Congo,” said the Minister of Health, Mme Emilienne Raoul.
This initiative is expected to save between 16,000 and 20,000 children’s lives by 2013 through these and similar life savers.
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