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Dramatic improvements in child health and education noted on Timor Leste's second anniversary

TIMOR LESTE, 20 May 2004 - As Timor Leste, the world’s newest nation and youngest democracy, marks its 2nd anniversary on May 20, it can also celebrate dramatic improvements in health and education services for children, says UNICEF.

Immunization coverage has increased by more than half to 60 percent and Vitamin A supplements are now provided to 99 percent of under-fives. Mobile registration teams, which have already registered more than 17,000 children, are expanding across the country. Nearly 4,000 women and children have been empowered through literacy classes.

Levels of political will and popular optimism are extraordinarily high, and Prime Minister Dr. Mari Alkatiri has stated firmly that good education and health are the foundations of good governance and enduring peace.

Nonetheless, Timor Leste still faces considerable challenges in meeting the basic rights of its children, says UNICEF. The country has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the region (88:1000 and 830:100000 respectively) and a fertility rate of 7.4 children per household. Forty percent of the population lives on less than US$1 a day.

Most health and education facilities were damaged or destroyed in the post-referendum violence of 1999, but the quality and coverage of the healthcare system has risen consistently. Similarly, the education sector has quickly responded to the need for a new and relevant curriculum, improvements in teaching and a long-term commitment to strengthening primary schooling.

 “In Timor Leste, children make up 60 percent of the population. Only by meeting their basic needs can the country hope to sustain a broader process of development,” said Mehr Khan, Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific.

In 1999, UNICEF was one of the first agencies to deliver emergency assistance. Today the Agency is helping the government and civil society to strengthen social services and the national immunization system, and is assisting the police and judiciary to set up response mechanisms for vulnerable and exploited children. This work is supported by the generous assistance of many donors, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the US.

As of today, Timor Leste has moved rapidly from a state of emergency to a state of development, although much remains to be accomplished. UNICEF believes that this progress can be maintained by continuing to put children first. 

For more information and interviews, please contact

Robert Few, UNICEF EAPRO: 662 356 9499 ext. 9518, 661 746 3048
Madhavi Ashok, UNICEF Timor Leste, 670 331 3568




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