Message from the representative
For me, working at UNICEF has been driven by a desire to give children, who are often marginalized and ignored by communities and governments, a voice and control over their futures. I believe that this ultimately works towards the higher goals of UNICEF of improving the lives of children across the world by creating a World Fit for Children and ultimately securing the rights of the child as laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. In addition to this, leaders from around world from the public, private and civil society sectors recently committed to the admirable goal of ending preventable child deaths in the seminal declaration, A Promise Renewed. The knowledge and tools exist to make the goal of ending preventable child deaths possible and Malawi has made tremendous progress so far, cutting child deaths by 64% since 1990, when the world came together for the World Summit for Children. I would like to see this progress sustained and strengthened during my time here.
The key to our success is the driven and dedicated staff at UNICEF. In addition, I believe there is something special about Malawi that makes it possible for these goals to be fulfilled. The innovation that comes naturally to Malawians, the use of empirical evidence in driving programming and finally the incredible sense of community in Malawi have all impressed me immensely since I arrived.
Innovation is essential to securing the rights of all children and ending the poverty that many feel is so deeply entrenched here in Malawi. It is, undoubtedly, a difficult situation and that requires us to think differently about how to get out of it. What I have seen from Malawians has left me feeling that poverty does not have a fighting chance against the innovative solutions to complex problems that I witnessed. One particularly compelling example is the use of SMS technology in poverty alleviation and healthcare programming. For example the use of SMS technology has dramatically reduced the time a mother has to wait to find out if her newborn baby is free of HIV. That is a life changing difference. Innovative programming, one of my goals for the UNICEF Malawi team, thus seems a highly attainable goal for us.
Too often programming is driven by good intentions that are not backed by solid evidence. In the UNICEF Malawi office, I encourage the use of empirical findings in driving programming and informing issue-led advocacy. In Malawi, this has been tremendously successful. Malawi is applying the Monitoring Results for Equity system (MoRES) framework, which collects data on the progress of programmes in order to shape further programming. It allows us to know what is and what is not working and to go forward from there, eliminating inefficiencies and bottlenecks that stagnate progress towards our ultimate goal of improving the lives of children. This will assist us in becoming a knowledge leader as well as giving us the tools for powerful advocacy on behalf of the children.
Finally, the sense of community in Malawi is remarkable. Touring our programmes in Malawi, I have been particularly struck by this. For example, one program that UNICEF supports in villages around Malawi fosters male peer support groups. These groups involve men encouraging other men to take their wives for antenatal HIV tests and to get tested themselves while there. Men encouraging men has worked tremendously well to increase the proportion of the population that know their HIV status which in turn encourages the use of ARVs to prevent mother-to-child transmission, which remains high in Malawi. Community mobilization has also been instrumental in bringing about better sanitation and hygiene practices. Communities, supported by UNICEF, come together to build latrines and work together to encourage better hygiene practices within the community. With diarrhoeal diseases a leading cause of death among children under-five , improved sanitation and hygiene is imperative to improving child mortality. It has also been shown to increase economic growth – healthier populations result in healthier economies.