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Super child health agents are helping Brazil reduce preventable child deaths

Watch Nicole, 9, teach her peer Miguel about the importance of vaccinations. Nicole is part of Brazil's Super Child Health Agent programme, which empowers children with the necessary knowledge to help ensure that both they and their peers stay healthy.  Watch in RealPlayer


By Kent Page

The 2013 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed shows that major progress has been made in lowering child mortality in all regions of the world and at all levels of national income. Nonetheless, even bigger gains are needed if the world is to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 – reducing under-5 mortality by two thirds by 2015. UNICEF’s Web series on A Promise Renewed focuses on some of the successful and innovative programmes that have helped save the lives of millions of children around the world.

In 2012, Brazil reached Millennium Development Goal 4. Disparities across Brazil mean that work remains to be done, particularly in some impoverished communities and among marginalized groups, including Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people. As demonstrated by the Social Mothers programme, the Stork Network, the Mother Kangaroo programme and Super Child Health Agents, Brazil continues to innovate and make progress in addressing under-5 and maternal health.

Super Child Health Agents are superheroes in their own right, helping Brazil tackle preventable child deaths by educating their peers about vaccinations, hygiene and good health.

FORTALEZA, Brazil, 16 October 2013 – “Hey, Miguel!” says Nicole, as she sits down beside him at a plastic table. “Do you know why vaccinations are important?” Miguel’s transfixed by Nicole’s affectionate smile, but, to be honest, he’s only 4 years old and is not quite sure what the answer is.

No problem! Nicole has the answer, and she knows how to explain it to Miguel. Just 9 years old, Nicole is already a trained Super Child Health Agent. “Vaccinations help to keep children like us healthy,” she says to Miguel, holding his hands. “Vaccinations make sure that we don’t get any bad diseases.”

Superhero explains super inoculations

Both children are dressed in their school uniform, a white and yellow vest with a big, smiling yellow sun. Nicole and Miguel go to Escolinha Sol (Sunshine School) in a poor community in Fortaleza; to survive, the school depends on donations and voluntary workers.
Nicole learned about vaccinations, hygiene and good health from local university medical students who volunteer to teach each new group of Super Child Health Agents at the school.

Like any superhero, Nicole dons a costume when she’s acting in her role as a Super Child Health Agent. It’s a simple sky-blue top that she wears over her vest – but, as with any uniform, after putting it on, she seems to have more confidence. She takes time to think about what she’s going to say before she sits down with Miguel.

© UNICEF/2013/Page
Nicole tells Miguel that some vaccinations are administered via a needle in the arm. She also teaches her peers about the importance of good hygiene and other best practices that promote optimal health.

“Vaccinations are given in two ways,” she tells the little boy. “One way is by a needle that goes in your arm.” She shows Miguel where the injection goes with her index finger. “The other way is to give a drop that goes in your mouth that you have to swallow. Open your mouth and we can pretend,” she says. Miguel dutifully opens his mouth wide, and Nicole pretends to put a drop in his mouth, at which point all the attention he’s getting results in a peal of laughter.

Super agents with super results

Nicole is just one of many Super Child Health Agents at Escolinha Sol. It is based on Brazil’s highly effective national health agent programme, which, since the 1990s, has been one of the most important factors in reducing under-5 child mortality rates across the country.

Health agents go door to door in communities across the country, and have been critical in reducing child deaths caused by pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition, helping expand vaccination coverage against preventable childhood diseases such as measles, and teaching families about the importance of hygiene.

Brazil’s innovative, successful efforts in reducing child mortality symbolize the efforts of the A Promised Renewed pledge, signed by 176 countries (including Brazil) in just over one year to accelerate declines in child mortality. Making gains in reducing preventable child deaths requires the collaborative efforts of governments, civil society, faith-based organizations, private sector, communities, families … and dedicated children like Nicole.

More work still needs to be done, as disparities across Brazil mean that in many impoverished communities – such as Nicole’s – and among marginalized groups, including Brazil’s indigenous peoples, under-5 mortality rates are of concern and need to be reduced.
In the meantime, more superheroes are needed, so this child-to-child health education programme is being expanded in other schools in Brazil.



UNICEF Photography: Committing to child survival

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