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UNICEF launches The State of the World’s Children Report 2008 and draws attention to child malnutrition in the Maldives

UNICEF Representative Ken Maskall and Minister of Health Honorable Ilyas Ibrahim launch UNICEF flagship The State of the World's Children 2008 on Child Survial. Male', Maldives, 31 January 2008.

MALE', Maldives, 31 January 2008 - UNICEF's The State of The World's children (SOWC) is launched today in the Maldives. The 2008 edition of the flagship report focuses on child survival and highlights strategies that can help reduce the number of children who die before reach their fifth birthday.

For the first time in modern history, under-five mortality has fallen below 10 million per year, according to new survey figures released by UNICEF in 2007. This year's SOWC goes beyond the number to suggest actions and initiatives that should lead to further progress, such as exclusive breastfeeding, immunization, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin A supplementation. The report also emphasizes the need to involve local communities to reduce mortality and improving children's health.

"Community-level integration of essential services for mothers, newborns and young children, and sustainable improvements in national health systems can save the lives of many of the more than 26,000 children under five who die each day," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at the report's global launch ceremony in Geneva, 22 December 2007.

The report's analysis also reveals that far more needs to be done to increase access to treatments and means of prevention, so the devastating impact of pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, severe acute malnutrition and HIV can be better addressed. The challenge is to ensure children have access to a continuum of health care, backed by strong national health systems.

The report showcases examples of successful initiatives, such as the Accelerates Child Survival and Development Initiative, which provides integrated primary care to impoverished households in sub-Saharan Africa; and the Measles Initiative, a global campaign that has helped to reduce measles deaths by around 68 per cent worldwide, and by more than 90 per cent in Africa, since 2000.

"Child mortality rates speak volumes about a country's development in general, and its priorities and values," said UNICEF Representative in the Maldives Ken Maskall. "We are pleased to see that the Maldives has already achieved the Millennium Development Goals on reducing child mortality. However, there is still work to be done to reach the target of halving the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015."

"The 11member countrues of the WHO South-East Asia Region are home to about a quarter of the world population and the region accounts for almost one-third of the global child dealths," stressed World Health Organization Representative in the Maldives Dr. Jorge Luna. "In many countries, the progress in reducing child deaths has slowed and in some areas past gains have been reversed. Failure to effectively address neonatal mortality is one impact reason, in addition to other factors including the limited impact in addressing determinants of ill health such as malnutrition, unhealthy environments, and poor access to quality health care services."

Latest available data from a 2001 Multiple Indicator Cluster Servey (MICS) shows that 30% of Maldivian children under five are underweight. The same data shows 25% of children under five to be stunted and 13% wasted, highlighting challenges related to chronic malnutrition likely originating at birth or early on in a child's life. "The data for the Maldives tells us there are challenges in caring and feeding practices which are precenting many Maldivian children from reaching their full potential," said Mr. Maskall.

A 2006 UNICEF-supported study on Infant and Young Child Feeding identified children between 24-35 months are most vulnarable, indicating that this is likely due to very low rates of exclusive breastfeeding and low-quality complimentary foods later in the child's life.

With UNICEF's support, the Government has implemented the Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) programme in 2007, focusing on positive deviance approaches and the use of community monitoring tools. In support of this strategy, 30 ECD verandas have been built in five focus atolls, benefiting more than 5,500 children under five years of age. The approach includes hands-on training on infant and young child feeding practices for mothers who have malnourished children, the training of community health workers and midwives to implement the IECD strategy.

To identify vulnarable children and reach them with appropriate services in a timely manner, a national online Nutrition and Child Health Surveillance System (NCHSS) has also been established in the Maldives. This system, rolled out to six atolls in 2007 covering 60% of all under-five children, will be expanded to reach the entire country by the end of 2008. A national Micronutrient Survey was also undertaken in 2007, which will provide crucial imput into the national Micronutrient Policy when it is completed in 2008.

"The Maldives' success in reducing under-five mortality has been achieved through continued high investment for health annually, with focus on children and mothers, particularly in the atolls and isolated islands of the country by application of primary health care approach," said Minister of Health, Honorable Ilyas Ibrahim. "Ministry of Health will continue to invest on evidence-based strategies to sustain this success and target challenging areas of nutrition and newborn care in the coming years, together with the partners in health development in the country."

"Investing in the health of children and their mothers is not only human rights imperative, but is a sound economic decision and one of the surest ways for the country to set its course towards a better future," concluded the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, Patrice Coeur-Bizot.

For further information, detailed programme and interviews please contact:

Piyali Mustaphi (UNICEF) Tel: (960) 3343321 Email
Hawla Ahmed Didi (UNICEF) Tel: (960) 3343330 Email:
Sherine Guirguis (UNICEF) Tel: (960) 7906977 Email:
Yumna Rasheed (UNICEF) Tel: (960) 7782603 Email:









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