For nearly 6 decades UNICEF in Uganda is saving children’s lives, defending their rights, keeping them safe from harm and helps them fulfill their potential.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was created to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path. In 1946 UNICEF’s first major challenge was to assist children in Europe whose lives had been devastated by World War II. In 1953 the organization became a permanent part of the United Nations.
In Uganda, UNICEF begun its operations in the early 1960s. However, in 1962, due to political unrest, UNICEF operations were transferred to Nairobi, leaving behind a small liaison office. After the liberation war in 1979, UNICEF joined in efforts to help get the country on its feet again by starting a reconstruction and rehabilitation programme.
Children, being the most vulnerable group, took the brunt of the hardship. The decline in the health services during that time meant that children’s survival was already in jeopardy; few women had access to maternity facilities, so both mother and child were endangered. Similarly, the vital years between birth and five, when children are most likely to succumb to disease, were made even more dangerous by lack of health care. The deterioration of water supplies – pumps breaking down, pipes bursting, water systems destroyed, increased the chances of the already weakened child contracting water-borne diseases.
The situation was worsened with the famine in Karamoja in the 1980s.
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With the re-establishment of its Country Programme Office in Uganda, UNICEF embarked on a programme of emergency rehabilitation of health services and rural water supplies.
UNICEF also prioritised emergency relief for Karamoja, mainly focusing on nutrition surveillance and community education and other health interventions.
The new country programme between UNICEF and the Government highlighted the priorities below:
- Immunization: Vaccination has a direct effect on the incidence of the six immunizable diseases and can greatly reduce infant and child morbidity and mortality. Strengthening immunization services therefore provided an entry point for improving additional maternal and child health components.
- Rural water supply and sanitation: Recognizing the strong connection between safe water and sanitation in rural Uganda, UNICEF regarded improvement of drinking water supply, improved sanitation and hygiene education as the major strategies in the reduction of the infant mortality rate. UNICEF supported health education by trained extension staff to promote awareness of environmental sanitation problems through household visits, meetings with community leaders in health units and in schools and by water source caretakers in their communities.
- Control of Diarrhoeal Disease (CDD) Programme: Diarrhoeal diseases were a major cause of mortality and morbidity, ranking as the third leading cause of mortality among in-patients all ages. Diarrhoeal also aggravated malnutrition in children. Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) was therefore established as a cost-effective method of controlling and reversing rehydration due to diarrhoea in infants, children and adults if provided in the context of expanded preventive health measures.
- School health education: Emphasis was put on educating children to inculcate healthy life-styles while they were still in their formative years.
- District health education network: Main focus was put on preventive measures an important avenue towards reducing morbidity and mortality among children.