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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham visits child survival programmes in Sierra Leone

UNICEF Image: David Beckham, Sierra Leone, Therapeutic Feeding Centre
© UNICEF/HQ08-0009/ Turnley
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham visits a therapeutic feeding centre in Makeni. The UNICEF-supported centre is the only one in the northern part of the country, which 'State of the World's Children 2008' notes has the highest under-five mortality rate.

By Thomas Nybo

BOMBALI DISTRICT, Sierra Leone, 22 January 2008 – Football star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham recently completed a visit to Sierra Leone, where he travelled with UNICEF representatives to focus attention on the issue of child survival.

The trip took place during the lead-up to the release of UNICEF's yearly flagship report – The State of the World's Children 2008. This year’s report cites Sierra Leone as having the highest rate of infant mortality in the world. 

“In Sierra Leone, one in four children dies before reaching their fifth birthday,” Mr. Beckham said. “It’s shocking and tragic, especially when the solutions are simple. Saving these children’s lives is a top priority for UNICEF – and as an Ambassador, I hope I can help to draw attention to this issue across the world.”

A tour with a purpose

Mr. Beckham's first stop was a health clinic near the town of Makeni, where he met with patients and administered a polio vaccine to a newborn girl. While his vehicle passed through the centre of town, dozens of young fans ran alongside it, trying to catch a glimpse or snap a photograph of one of the world's most famous footballers. 

UNICEF's representative in Sierra Leone Geert Cappelaere noted that in addition to the excitement generated by Mr. Beckham’s visit, the tour had a serious underlying purpose.

UNICEF Image: David Beckham, Sierra Leone, Therapeutic Feeding Centre
© UNICEF/HQ08-0012/ Turnley
During his trip, Mr. Beckham met with five-year-old Foday, a malnourished child being treated at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre after suffering a traumatic injury.

"David Beckham's visit is important for UNICEF's global health agenda," Mr. Cappelaere said. "Child survival is one of the top priorities of UNICEF. His visit will help support our global drive to improve the health of children and women."

‘We can’t turn a blind eye’

At another small village, Mr. Beckham was on hand as insecticide-treated bed nets were distributed to young mothers and pregnant women. The Goodwill Ambassador also met with local children, to whom he gave autographed footballs. 

One of the more dramatic stops on Mr. Beckham's tour was at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre. With support from UNICEF, the centre is able to provide these children with life-saving nutritional supplies such as fortified milk and high-protein biscuits.

At the centre, Mr. Beckham met with Foday, a five-year-old boy who had swallowed a chemical that scarred his throat so severely that he was prevented from eating solid food for months. Foday held Beckham's hand and joined him on a walk through the facility.

"We can’t turn a blind eye to the tens of thousands of young children who die every day in the developing world, mostly from causes that are preventable,” said Mr. Beckham.




21 January 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham's visit to Sierra Leone during the lead-up to the launch of the UNICEF flagship publication, The State of the World's Children 2008.
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