ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 12 July 2005 - Despite the G8 leaders' latest pledge to double annual aid to Africa, UNICEF warns that donors are showing signs of compassion fatigue over the plight of Ethiopia's severely malnourished and dying children.
Half a world away from Scotland where the annual G8 Summit took place last week, preventable diseases and malnutrition kill up to half a million children a year in Ethiopia - more than the entire population of Edinburgh, Scotland's capital.
UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Bjorn Ljungqvist said major donors are not stepping up fast enough to provide vital funding for a package of life-saving treatments, screenings and other interventions.
"A cloud of cynicism has settled over Africa - cynicism caused by everything from corruption to armed conflicts, cynicism felt by everyone from donors to the general public. But this cloud hides the fact that innocent children are dying unnecessarily. There are simple things that we can do and must do to save these children," said Mr. Ljungqvist.
Nutritional assessments of 6.8 million children in 325 food insecure districts are conducted under the EOS programme every six months. Children with severe malnutrition are admitted into UNICEF-supported therapeutic treatment centres. Those with moderate malnutrition receive supplementary feeding, with WFP assistance.
Child survival interventions
Donor funding is needed to support simple, cost-effective interventions that can save lives. An example is the case of four-year-old Tesfaye, who was on the verge of death when he was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition in April after a screening at Ethiopia's Derara Health Centre.
"After the screening, we were told to bring our sick children to the health centre," said Tesfaye's mother Mulu. "I took my son because he was in a very bad condition. I did not think he would survive. He stayed there for 15 days and when he was cured I brought him home. Since then I go back every week and receive food and soap.
"He has gained three kilos in two months and I am happy to see him in such good health. Now he has the chance to live," Mulu said.
Mulu and her son's weekly visits to the Derara Health Centre are part of the Enhanced Outreach Strategy (EOS) for Child Survival Interventions, a programme developed by UNICEF in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, and regional health bureaus. The programme was created in 2004 to reach the most vulnerable and underserved children in the country with key child survival interventions.
The programme's benefits are not restricted to malnourished children. Health workers also use the opportunity provided by EOS screenings to conduct deworming, to provide all children between six months and five years of age with vitamin A supplementation and to provide measles immunization for any children not previously immunized.
Urgent appeal for $42 million
UNICEF is urgently appealing to major donors to fill a $42 million gap in funding. Earlier this year UNICEF Ethiopia appealed for $54.7 million to support the country's most vulnerable children during 2005. This amount included $15 million for water and sanitation work and $39.7 million for health and nutrition.
However, more than half way through the year, funding for the initial appeal has fallen short by almost $42 million - more than 75 per cent of the amount needed.
The G8 decisions
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said earlier that the G8 decisions will be critical to the health and well-being of more than one billion children living in poverty, the 100 million excluded from school, and the 10.6 million children who die before age five each year.
"Children affected by extreme poverty need our help no matter where they live," Veneman said. "Channelling funds through international institutions like UNICEF and the World Food Programme can deliver aid straight to the community level, where children need it most."
In Ethiopia, up to 170,000 children will die from severe acute malnutrition alone by the end of the year if not treated. Ethiopia currently only has the capacity to treat 5,350 severely malnourished children at any one time (up from 2,000 in January). UNICEF estimates that this year the country will need the capacity to treat a total of 19,400 severely malnourished children at a time. The funding to support that increase is currently not there. Nor is there funding to provide all the measles vaccinations, mosquito nets or emergency water supplies that Ethiopia's children need.