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Press release

Religious and traditional leaders ally with media to back child survival

UNICEF endorses call to action uniting Africa’s traditional and religious leaders with the media in support of immunization and other child survival interventions.

DAKAR, SENEGAL, 20 October 2004 - In a statement issued today, African religious and traditional leaders committed to using their institutions and influence to give all children every chance for a healthy start in life. They emphasized the need to prioritize marginalized and hard to reach children.

“The Koran says that protection is mandatory,” said Dr. Esseldin El Sawy, Vice President of Al-Azhar University, Egypt.  “Islam is for the protection of every human being, including children.” He added that average immunization coverage in Muslim communities in Africa is lower than the overall rate.

The Call to Action invites all faith-based organizations across Africa to engage fully in spreading the essential facts of child survival within their congregations and communities.

“From a Christian perspective, any person who advises against immunization without valid and solid reason has no business being a leader in any capacity,” said Rev. Gertrude Kaduna, Vice President of the All Africa Conference of Churches.  The Call to Action identifies multiple opportunities to protect children’s right to health, and asks religious and traditional leaders to advocate with others to support and expand existing initiatives.

Religious and traditional leaders will mobilize a Pan African movement for immunization and child survival. They unanimously agreed that they must take this partnership back to their countries and use it to guarantee sustained efforts for improved child health everywhere on the continent. They will engage other partners in health development, such as the media and Forum organizers UNICEF and Religious for Peace, for the broadest possible support.

“In our African tradition, survival of the child represents the survival of humanity. We must take all measures possible to protect children against everything that could threaten their lives and development,” said Amirou Garba Sidikou, Chief of the Canton of Kouré and Secretary General of the Association of Traditional Leaders in Niger.

The Call to Action says “we must ensure that all efforts take into account every cultural and traditional avenue to promote peaceful and healthy environments for children.” It also acknowledges the important role that women play in the healthy upbringing of children.

Africa’s leading print, radio and television media vowed to encourage accurate reporting on children’s lives and health.  They also agreed to work with religious and traditional leaders and governments, to monitor the progress of child survival initiatives. The media representatives not only endorsed the call, but also appealed for the creation of an African Health Journalist’s network to foster responsibility among African journalists reporting on health.

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For further information:
Kent Page, UNICEF Dakar: 221-869-5876
Oliver Phillips, UNICEF New York: 1 212 326 7583
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva:  41 22 909 5716,




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