Religious leaders commit to child survival
By Daisy Serem
Their words resonate with the congregation of religious leaders they are addressing. As the men and women of different faiths listen to the children’s voices they reflect on their role as spiritual and moral leaders in ensuring the survival of children and women.
Grim statistics on child mortality
In Kenya, 74 out of every 1,000 children born alive die before their fifth birthday, mainly from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. The maternal death rate is equally high, with more than 6,000 women dying from pregnancy-related complications each year.
Most of these deaths can be prevented if mothers attend four ante-natal clinics and deliver with the assistance of skilled health workers. This way, any complications and risks are addressed in good time and emergency obstetric care provided to save the lives of the mothers and babies.
UNICEF works with the Government and religious leaders to ensure children and mothers access information and services, such as immunization, to help save their lives.
“We know that, because of the central role of religion in society, religious communities are uniquely positioned with their values, moral influence and extensive networks to promote the survival, development and protection of children within and without their congregations,” UNICEF Representative to Kenya, Mr Marcel Rudasingwa, told the congregation.
Faith for life
“I had faith that my children would be fine, especially since I went to the hospital. Had I had delivered at home with the help of a traditional midwife, my children and I would not have made it,” she says.
“Even as we decry the poor skills in health care, we must not tire to remind our people that being faithful in enforcing breastfeeding and proper nutritional habits are key to good health at the household level.”
They also pledged to develop concrete multi-religious advocacy and action to address child survival and maternal health. These include incorporating messages and information about child survival and maternal health into their prayer and worship services, religious festivals and childhood education and religious rites; changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that reject evidence-based health interventions for children and mothers, such as immunization, exclusive breast feeding for six months and nutrition; using mass media to disseminate messages on child survival and maternal health; speaking out and taking action against all forms of violence and abuse against children and women within and beyond their communities; advocating against harmful traditional practices that infringe child survival and maternal health; and enhancing involvement of men in the physical, moral and spiritual development of the child.
The religious leaders asked African governments to allocated 15 per cent of their national budgets to health as agreed at the 1999 Conference on Maternal and Child Survival in Abuja.