Vote for child survival

It felt great watching the second presidential debate televised live from Nairobi yesterday and I can totally imagine how proud my Kenyan friends would have felt.

It’s without doubt a massive step forward for democracy in Kenya, and Africa in general, and the general elections next Monday present a huge opportunity to further progress on the human development front.

I was a bit disappointed however on the lack of emphasis on social policy issues, health and education in particular.

All eight candidates seemed focused on land reforms and economy, both of which are crucial issues in Kenya today, nonetheless, inequitable access to basic services and addressing governance issues needs to be prioritised as well.

Lagging behind

Kenya has made considerable economic gains over the past two decades, yet little or no progress has been made on improving key human development indicators, such as reducing mortality among children under five, during the same period.

A comparative analysis of countries in the east African community by Save the Children presented at the launch of the East Africa Paediatric Association last year, revealed that Kenya lags significantly behind its neighbours on child survival, and at the current pace of progress, Kenya is not projected to meet its MDG 4 target before 2075.

Moreover, only about half of the children under five with pneumonia receive the appropriate treatment, while this figure is even worse for diarrhoea, which can be treated easily at home.

Less than one-third of Kenyan children under five are exclusively breastfed, and consequently about 35% are malnourished.

There is significant disparity in access to essential services across the country, particularly in the north-eastern and north-western counties.

Save the Children health teams are on the ground, supporting national campaigns such as Malezi Bora and strengthening local health systems to improve newborn and child survival in these rural and remote communities.

Much more to do

According to a recent research by Kenyatta University, 25% of children are stunted, even among the richest households in Kenya, suggesting a serious issue with child-caring and feeding practices. This accounts to a loss of an estimated US$2.8 billion to Kenya’s economy annually.

Kenya has some of the best policy framework in sub-Saharan Africa, yet national policies are not conducive to promote child survival in the communities, in particular preventing community health workers (CHW) from treating common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia and malaria – an evidence-based practice which is widely accepted and recommended globally.

Kenya’s neighbours, such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, have made impressive gains on child survival by implementing CHW programmes at scale.

Save the Children, in partnership with other organisations in Kenya, organised a policy dialogue last year to call for the necessary policy changes to expedite progress on child survival.

Don’t lose momentum

The outgoing President pledged universal immunisation coverage and increased numbers of health workers as Kenya became the first country in the region to introduce Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) as part of its national immunisation programme.

There is a pressing need to continue this momentum and prioritise child survival in national policies to ensure that every child in Kenya survives beyond five and realises their full potential so they can contribute to the development of their country.

With a few more days of campaigning to go, the candidates must emphasise their position and priorities on child survival.

Afya na maisha kwa watoto wote (health and survival for all children) must be the campaign slogan for continuing national development in Kenya.