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In Sierra Leone, a drive to reduce newborn deaths

UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
Baindu’s youngest child, Ishmael receives the polio vaccines during Mami en Pikin Well Bodi Week (Mother and Child Health’s Week).

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 23 June 2009 - Baindu Sesay, 40, hails from Pepel village, Port Loko, in the northern part of Sierra Leone. Coincidentally, Baindu and her family were in Kenema to see her relatives during the Mami en Pikin Well Bodi Week (Mother and Child Health’s Week) that took place between the 29th May and 1st June 2009.

She took her six month old and youngest child, Ishmael, to the health fare on the 29th May in Kenema so that he could benefit from vaccination against polio, de-worming and administration of vitamin A and other health interventions.

Towards MDG 4: reducing infant mortality
According to the latest Demographic Health Survey, Sierra Leone achieved a reduction on infant mortality from 262 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 140 per 1,000 live births in 2008. One of the goals of the campaign is to contribute to reduce the country’s infant mortality rate to 101 per 1,000 live births by 2015.

This is the second time that UNICEF is collaborating with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, WHO, Helen Keller International, Save the Children UK, Concern Worldwide, the Sierra Leone Red Cross and other stakeholders in mobilizing funds, resources and expertise to reinforce this downward trend by introducing the Mami en Pikin Well Bodi Week.

The campaign, which targets over one million children under the age of five, aims to prevent illnesses and deaths among them. This is a bi-annual integrated health campaign that is being undertaken in all the 13 districts of Sierra Leone.

“I had given birth to nine children but two died of malaria before they could reach their first birthdays”, Baindu lamented. “By then I had no idea of the importance of sleeping under insecticide treated bed nets but now, my baby and I sleep under bed nets and I think we are now free from malaria. And we must also keep our environments clean at all times!” 

Combatting preventable childhood illnesses
Malaria is the leading cause of illness and deaths among children under the age of five in Sierra Leone. It accounts for over 40 per cent of all diseases reported at health facilities and over 38 per cent of deaths of children under the age of five. Neonatal tetanus is responsible for 23 per cent of infant mortality.

UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/Davies
Baindu feeds her six-month-old son Ishmael exclusively with breast milk. "He's plump and healthy".

“I have also brought my baby [Ishmael] to be vaccinated against polio. This campaign has certainly made my child to grow in good health and I want it to continue every year so that many babies in Sierra Leone, especially those within the age of five, will stop dying of preventable diseases”, Baindu expressed.

Promoting life-saving child care and family practices
Baindu, like over 1,000 mothers and babies at the health fare, also received health education and hygiene promotional messages such as the importance of hand washing with soap, exclusive breastfeeding, nutrition, malaria prevention, etc. from health professionals.

The Mami en Pikin Well Bodi Week was immediately followed by a week-long yellow fever vaccination campaign (2nd – 7th June) in five districts – Kenema, Moyamba, Kono, Kailahun and Pujehun –  that targets every person above the age of nine months.  These were some of the 11 districts that were selected to undergo vaccinations after a research revealed that they were at risk of a yellow fever outbreak.

A vaccination campaign for the other six districts will take place in November this year. Bonthe and Bombali are the only districts not included in the yellow fever campaign since the risk of the disease is low.

“My six children, husband and I have all received the yellow fever vaccination”, Baindu concluded.

By Issa Davies







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