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In Sierra Leone, partnerships with religious leaders help combat child mortality

©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2010/Vaggi
© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2010/Vaggi
Dauda Sesay receives a polio vaccine during Sierra and his mother during Sierra Leone’s Maternal and Child Health campaign. As part of this campaign, Dauda’s family also received two free malaria nets.

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 29 November 2010 –  Dauda Sesay, 2, squirms in his mother’s arms as they wait in line to receive their free mosquito nets at the distribution point in the Clinetown section of Freetown in Sierra Leone.

His mother, Nmmah, heard about the free mosquito nets from her local imam, who has been raising awareness in the community on how to combat this deadly disease. Her imam explained that mosquito nets could prevent her four children from contracting malaria, the leading cause of death for children under 5 in Sierra Leone.

“The imam in our neighbourhood told us how important it is to use mosquito nets. All of my children have had malaria before, and I don’t want to see them sick again. Now that we know have the nets and know how to use, I will make sure that my children sleep under one.”

Across Sierra Leone, over a thousand religious leaders from all faiths are mobilizing people like Nmmah to take action to improve maternal and child health in Sierra Leone. As part of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children are taking part in a global effort to mobilize faith and secular groups to work for the wellbeing of children.

Celebrations to launch the event took place in Freetown and three regional capitals on November 20th, with prayer services, parades by school children and a commitment by religious leaders to promote healthy practices among their congregants and encourage them to use local health services during the country’s Maternal and Child Health Week from November 26 to December 2.

United for children's wellbeing
The effort is being led by UNICEF and the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone, a partnership of Muslim and Christian faith leaders who played a key role in the peacebuilding process following the country’s brutal civil war, and are now focusing on raising community awareness around essential development and health issues.

“UNICEF and the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone have a very strong partnership, which goes back many years,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “Religious leaders have always been key influencers and opinion leaders in their communities in Sierra Leone.

As the country moves forward they are playing an important role in promoting preventive health behaviours including routine immunisation, appropriate child feeding practices and use of bednets,” he added.

The Maternal and Child Health campaign is focusing on the administration of deworming tablets, Vitamin A and Polio vaccines and the distribution of more than 3.2 million mosquito nets. The universal distribution of mosquito nets is especially significant for Sierra Leone, where malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality – 25% of all deaths and 38% of all deaths of children under five years are due to malaria.

All against child killer number one: malaria
During the exercise, over 3.2 million mosquito nets will be distributed, with every household receiving at least one and up to three bednets depending on the size of the household, in what is a major logistical and social mobilisation effort.

Religious leaders will play a crucial role in the success of the intervention as key influencers in their communities for utilization of bednets.  “I will make announcements in my mosque, visit houses and organise meetings with community members to ensure they understand the benefits of sleeping under the bednet every night to prevent malaria,” said Alhaji Sheikh Kamara.  “Also in my capacity as the Chief Imam of Bombali district, I will encourage other Muslim and Christian leaders to do the same,” he added.



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