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Kenya, 2 December 2010: Religious leaders aim health messages at 27 million Kenyans

© UNICEF Kenya/2010/Kariuki
Mothers and their babies queue for services at a health centre in Nairobi, kenya's Capital City, during the Malezi Bora Health Action weeks.

NAIROBI, Kenya, 2 December 2010 - The usually quiet Kahawa West Health Centre on the outskirts of Nairobi was thronging with activity, as more than 800 women and children waited for a battery of services being offered free as part of Kenya’s “Malezi Bora” (“Good Nurturing”) initiative.

“I’m expecting my third baby”, said Hannah Maina, a young woman who had travelled eight kilometers to reach the health facility. “Although I’m really tired, I had to come because on Sunday, our church pastor advised that expectant mothers should visit the clinic for free services,” Hannah added, as she received iron and folic acid supplements along with a card to keep track of her and her unborn baby’s developmental progress.

“Engaging religious leaders in child survival innovations has borne good dividends” says Margaret Kibe, a District Public Health Officer on hand at the Kahawa West Health Centre. “It is easier for people to believe what religious leaders tell them because they know and trust them.”

Hannah and mothers like her all across Kenya are beneficiaries of an initiative by UNICEF, the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, aimed at reaching some 27 million people with life-saving health, nutrition and hygiene and sanitation messages.

As part of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religious leaders working with UNICEF and the Kenyan government are promoting Malezi Bora health action weeks to encourage key child survival practices, with a focus on exclusive breastfeeding.

During these weeks, which occur every November and May, parents are urged to take their under-five year-old children to health centres and hospitals around the country for immunization, growth monitoring, Vitamin A and deworming. They also receive an insecticide-treated mosquito net to protect them from malaria, a major killer of children in Kenya.

© UNICEF Kenya/2010/Sittoni
Mother and baby queue for services at a community outreach in Kinango, Coast Province of Kenya, during the Malezi Bora Health Action weeks

“The partnership with religious leaders will ensure the messages on child survival and development reach families in each and every corner of the country. All families will know about the key actions they must take to ensure children survive and develop, including breastfeeding and sleeping under mosquito nets,” said Dr Juan Ortiz, Deputy Representative, UNICEF Kenya.

Under the Faith For Life Initiative, 27,000 members of the four faith communities will be trained on the critical high impact interventions for child survival and development. These are: mother and child health care, water and cleanliness, common childhood diseases, HIV and AIDs, nutrition, early stimulation and protection and health seeking behaviors.  Each of those trained is expected to reach at least 1,000 congregation members over a three-year period with messages encouraging healthy practices and uptake of health and nutrition services, reaching a total of 27 million Kenyans.

“Religious leaders have a higher burden of care for vulnerable children and women, given their status as shepherds and role models,” said Bishop Dr Bonifes Adoyo, moderator of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya.

Under the initiative, the religious leaders have also worked with religious scholars to develop communication material and a Handbook for Faith Communities comprising a compilation of verses from the holy books that are used to support breastfeeding, safe hygiene and sanitation, all of which contribute to child survival.

During the recent Faith For Life National Conference in Nairobi, 150 representatives of different faith communities signed a declaration to promote the key actions for children to improve child survival and development.

The Malezi Bora initiative was adopted by the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation in partnership with UNICEF and other partners in 2007, to address declining child survival indicators in Kenya.

In the last few years, the country’s under-five mortality rate has decreased from 115 per 1,000 live births in 2003 to 74 deaths in 2008/9, according to the recently released Kenya Demographic and Health Survey results.



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