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Press release

UNICEF Executive Director first UN agency head to visit Sierra Leone since the September 2007 elections

FREETOWN, 29 February 2008 - UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman today participated in President Ernest Bai Koroma’s launch of the National Reproductive and Child Health Strategic Plan, which aims to significantly reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.  

“Sierra Leone has the worst social indicators in the world,” said Veneman who is the first head of a UN agency to visit Sierra Leone since the September 2007 elections.  “A child born in this country has more than a one in four chance of dying before the age of 5.  A woman has a one in 8 lifetime risk of maternal mortality. This Strategic Plan is a road map that will help save the lives of the women and children of Sierra Leone.”
During her three day visit Veneman visited UNICEF supported programs in Makeni, north of the country, to see some of the progress being made.   Schools are being rebuilt and today more children are going to school and significant gains have been made in gender parity, especially at the primary level.   Peripheral health units providing integrated health interventions and therapeutic feeding centers treating severely malnourished infants have been established.  Thousands of bed-nets are being distributed as malaria is the number one killer of children in this country and more communities have access to safe water.

Sierra Leone is recovering from 11 years of civil war, known for its brutality, mutilation and use of rape as a weapon of war. Veneman met with women victims and with former boy combatants who are now reintegrated into communities and back in school.     

The nation is the lowest ranking country in the UNDP Human Development Index.  It is estimated that 60 per cent of the youth in Sierra Leone are unemployed, uneducated and unskilled.

Women and girls are still vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.  Many are subjected to gender based violence, early marriage and female genital cutting which has a prevalence rate of over 90 per cent. 

“Young people I met with said they want to go to school and they want to contribute to the rebuilding of their nation,” said Veneman. “In a country where unemployment is so high, education and vocational skills training are key to recovery.   An educated younger generation will help Sierra Leone have a better future.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Alison Parker, UNICEF Sierra Leone, Tel + (232) 22 24.14.22/22.38.65, Email aparker@unicef.org

Geoff Keele, UNICEF New York, Tel + 212-326-7583; Email Gkeele@unicef.org




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