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Women health volunteers save children’s lives in Nepal

© UNICEF video
Vitamin A supplements like those administered here by Ganga Thapa save an estimated 12,000 children’s lives annually in Niger.

By Jane O’Brien

Every year 10.5 million children die before the age of five, the vast majority from preventable causes. On 18 September, a high-level Child Survival Symposium in New York will galvanize action to reduce child deaths by two-thirds by 2015, in line with Millennium Development Goal 4. Here is the third in a series of UNICEF reports in the run-up to the symposium.

NEW YORK, USA, 15 September 2006 – Ganga Thapa has been a volunteer health worker for 16 years. She’s part of a growing network of women, supported by UNICEF, who bring essential care and medicines to children and mothers in remote Nepalese communities.

“My happiest moment is when I am able to cure pneumonia,” she says. “Before, lots of children used to die from pneumonia, but now I think nobody dies of it in this area.”

Treatment and prevention

Since it started in 1988, the Female Community Health Volunteer programme has been critical to reducing the mortality rate of children under the age of five. There are now some 48,000 women operating in all 75 districts.

As well as being able to treat potentially fatal diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, the women also ensure that children are immunized against preventable diseases.

“They are participating in the campaign of distributing Vitamin A, polio eradication and de-worming,” says Tanahu District Health Officer Dr. Kedar Prasad Century. “It is not only good for our village but also good for our country.”

Infant mortality rate halved

Vitamin A supplements can reduce under-five mortality rates by 30 percent, and the programme in Nepal saves an estimated 12,000 children’s lives every year. It prevents a further 2,000 from going blind. Thanks to the women volunteers, 3.3 million children in all of the country’s 75 districts receive the supplements.

“The women are really inspired and care about their work,” says Dr. Century. “They are becoming popular and have good relations with the villagers. They also participate in mothers' groups and refer a lot of people to us. They have good positions in the village and in some places they are working full-time.”

The infant mortality rate has almost halved in the last 15 years as initiatives like the Female Health Care Volunteer programme continue to make a difference to some of Nepal’s most vulnerable children.








14 September 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on the Female Health Care Volunteer programme and its effect on child survival in Nepal.
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