NAIROBI, 15 July2005 - A disproportionately heavy burden of child deaths weighs on families in eastern and southern Africa. Every day 5,500 children under the age of five die across the 21 countries of the region and the majority of the deaths are largely preventable.
That means that in the space of just two months more children's lives are lost in the region than were lost in the tsunami. This toll is followed by 330,000 more in the next two months, and every two months.
"More, much more must be done, and luckily can be done, to prevent these deaths," said Per Engebak, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. "What we need now is for countries to make sure that life-saving health interventions get to the children who need them. These interventions aren't complicated, they aren't expensive and they work. We know what treated mosquito nets, immunization and vitamin A supplements, for instance, can do. With these and other simple measures in place, children just do not have to die."
The exceptions to the grim rule reinforce this point. Eritrea, one of the world's poorest countries and encumbered by a long-standing drought, has managed nevertheless to make excellent progress in reducing malaria deaths among children under five. Its many-sided approach includes increasing children's and pregnant women's access to treated mosquito nets and to effective community-based diagnosis and treatment.
In fact, Eritrea, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia are all within reach of the important target of having 60 per cent of their children under five and pregnant women sleeping under treated mosquito nets this year and ensuring prompt access to effective treatment for those suffering from malaria. More children die from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa than from any other cause.
New statistics from Madagascar and Tanzania point to declines in infant and child mortality rates in recent years. Among the reasons are that Tanzania has boosted budget allocations to the health sector and has a national programme to get more babies and their mothers and young children under insecticide treated nets. Madagascar's integrated approach includes improving children's nutritional status, and reaching them with immunization and treated mosquito nets.
The recent African Union Summit in Libya early in July reaffirmed that body's commitment to improving children's survival and development prospects in Africa. The body urged all member states to replicate the successes being achieved and put in place the measures needed to reduce the death toll exacted among the continent's children. Strong national leadership and sustained international support can turn the tide.
As the Commissioner for Social Affairs said in Libya, "The means to attain MDG 4 [to reduce child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015] are known, proven, cost effective and widely available. The opportunity to act has rarely been greater. The time to deliver is now!"
For further information, please contact:
Patricia Lone, UNICEF ESARO, Tel: (0722-590595);
Victor Chinyama, UNICEF ESARO, Tel: (0722-701505); firstname.lastname@example.org
Beatrice Karanja, UNICEF ESARO, Tel: (0722-205482); email@example.com