Child, maternal and newborn health

More children are surviving their childhood in Liberia than ever before but efforts to save lives have to be accelerated.

UNICEF/Liberia 2018

The challenge

Liberia has come a long way since the war ended in 2003. Access to basic health services has improved significantly. The country slashed the death rate of children under 5 by two thirds, achieving one of the key Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Three quarters of children are immunized against measles and there have been no new polio cases recorded since 2010.

Still, not every child stands a chance to survive.

Imagine 152 yellow school buses, carrying a total of 11,000 young children. That’s how many children under 5 die every year in Liberia. They lose their lives to easily preventable diseases such as neonatal causes, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles. And the most vulnerable are newborn babies. At least a third of all under-five mortality occurs in the first month of life.

To make matters worse, pregnant women and mothers are also at risk. Liberia has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality. One out of every ten women dies while pregnant, giving birth to their babies or in the aftermath of delivery. When a mother dies, the likelihood of her baby dying increases.

Progress in Liberia is also hampered by high levels of malnutrition and a fragile healthcare system that deny children a fighting chance to survive common childhood illnesses.

Liberia loses 11,000 children under five each year.

Close to one in three children and adults live five kilometeres or more from a health facility. Trained health staff is in short supply, medicines are not always available and the outbreak of Ebola in 2014 and 2015 reversed many gains in child and maternal health.

The solution

With the resources available today, no child or mother should die of preventable causes. In Liberia, UNICEF assists the government and other partners to implement low-tech, inexpensive and high impact health interventions that save lives.

UNICEF works at all levels. We help to develop health sector policies and plans that focus on reducing child, neonatal and maternal deaths. We support the government to improve service delivery, especially in the most hard-to-reach south-eastern counties, and to mobilize communities to look after the health of children and women.

To make sure that children and women are getting the right medicines at the right time, UNICEF works with the Ministry of Health to procure and distribute essential drugs and supplies, track commodities and improve pharmaceutical storage capacities.

To improve maternal and newborn survival, health workers are trained to use simple but highly effective techniques to manage potentially fatal complications during pregnancy and childbirth. We promote reproductive health services for pregnant teenagers, maternal and newborn tetanus vaccination and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV services.

UNICEF helps to strengthen immunization services for children – from the policy and planning stage to the procurement, distribution and management of vaccines and cold chain equipment.  Special attention is given to outreach services in urban slums, where the majority of children and women who have not been immunized live.

We work with the National AIDS Control Programme and Ministry of Health to increase the number of health facilities providing HIV prevention and treatment for pregnant women, children and adolescents. UNICEF helps to create demand for these services and to ensure that clinics have HIV test kits and antiretorviral drugs.

At the community level, UNICEF supports integrated community case management of diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia. More than 730 UNICEF supported community health assistants visit homes in the south-eastern counties, providing life saving healthcare to children and women in the most remote and hard-to-reach areas of Liberia.