Kenya: UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman says children are key to development

By Rachel Bonham Carter and Brenda Kariuki
NAIROBI, 26 July 2005 -- On Sunday 24 July UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman visited Wajir in Kenya's North Eastern Province, to draw attention to the plight of children and women. The Province has suffered from years of neglect and exclusion, and faces significant challenges in its future development and progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

"Right now, all the key indicators for children and women in North Eastern Province are unacceptable," Ms. Veneman told an audience that included several leading government officials.

She referred in particular to low school enrolment rates -- four out of five girls never even enrol in school -- and poor access to health services that contributes to low immunization rates, high incidence of malaria and high risk of maternal death.

"The Millennium Development Goals are all about children," Veneman stressed. "If we work together to ensure children are properly fed and cared for, protected by immunization, have access to clean water and sanitation, sleep under treated bednets, know how to avoid HIV/AIDS, and have access to decent health services, we will go a long way to achieving the goals."

Later Ms. Veneman visited Wajir District Hospital, to deliver drugs and supplies worth more than $30,000. The supplies are for improving emergency obstetric care and nutrition, and include a motorbike to assist with vitamin A distribution and other outreach services.

On a visit to the village of Bula Makoror, Ms. Veneman saw a mobile clinic making a scheduled stop. The clinic is operated by Merlin, a non-governmental organization, with support from UNICEF. It provides immunizations and other health services, and distributes emergency nutrition supplies and anti-malarial bednets to nomadic and widely dispersed communities.

School meals key to improving performance

Ms. Veneman expressed UNICEF's strong support for school meals programmes, and thanked the World Food Programme -- an important partner for UNICEF in Kenya -- for its support in emergency response and education.

"We all know that children who try to learn on an empty stomach, learn badly," Ms. Veneman said. "Providing children with a meal in the middle of the school day is an excellent way of improving their school performance and attendance."

At Wajir Girls' Primary School, staff described to Ms. Veneman how improvements in boarding facilities, water and sanitation have increased enrolment.

Kenya's private sector unites against malaria

On Monday, Executive Director Veneman met with the Vice President of Kenya, Hon. Moody Awori, and with leading private sector partners in Nairobi to launch a campaign against malaria focused on North Eastern Province.

The campaign, which aims to raise $450,000 locally by the end of 2005, is led by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, the Nation Media Group, the Safaricom Foundation, Safaricom Limited, Kenya Commercial Bank, Gina Din Communications and Red Sky advertising.

"In taking on malaria you have chosen to fight a very important battle for Kenya's children," Ms. Veneman told more than 30 CEOs and other leaders from the private sector who attended the launch.

The Executive Director's stay in Kenya follows a visit to Uganda to highlight the plight of children caught up in the 19-year-long conflict there. This is Ms. Veneman's second trip to Africa since she became UNICEF's Executive Director in May.