Child mortality in Nepal
According to a 2018 USAID article, annually, 2.6 million infants “die within their first month of life.” In addition, about 15% of these deaths come about through complications stemming from “severe infections.” Many of these infections-induced deaths are easily preventable through one simple solution: chlorhexidine. In Nepal, the government of Nepal and USAID piloted a chlorhexidine initiative in 2009. In 2011, Nepal introduced the antiseptic into “routine care nationwide.” The introduction of the antiseptic has safeguarded the lives of more than 1.3 million newborns in Nepal, decreasing levels of child mortality in Nepal. Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also introduced the solution to reduce child mortality rates.

Facts About Child Mortality

  • Under 5 Mortality. Child mortality, which people also know as the under-five mortality rate, is the likelihood of a child dying before reaching 5 years of age and is usually calculated per 1,000 live births.
  • Child Mortality in Numbers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 5 million children under the age of 5 died in 2020. Newborns accounted for around half of those deaths — about 2.4 million neonatal deaths. Compared to data from 1990, the global child mortality rate has decreased by about 60%. UNICEF estimates that compared to 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, in 2020, the world noted 37 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • Highest Burdens. Child mortality is most severe in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where more than 80% of the 5 million deaths of children occurred in 2020.
  • Leading Causes. According to WHO, the leading causes of child mortality are infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria as well as complications arising from premature birth. The majority of infections are avoidable with simple and affordable health and sanitation solutions.

Child Mortality in Nepal

Nepal stands out in particular within the region of South Asia when it comes to child mortality rates. According to World Bank data, in 1960, Nepal recorded 325 under-5 deaths per 1,000 live births, whereas, in 2020, this number significantly reduced to 28 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is a significant improvement, especially in comparison to other countries. For instance, Pakistan reports 65 deaths per 1,000 live births and Afghanistan reports 58 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2020.

The reasons for child mortality rates continuing to persist in Nepal are multifold. Lack of preventative measures against infectious diseases like malaria and pneumonia plays a major role in many babies not surviving. Many times, complications at birth occur, which are easily preventable with adequate medical care. Lastly, unhygienic medical conditions result in infections that claim the lives of babies. The adoption of simple and cost-effective solutions, one of which is chlorhexidine, can easily prevent unhygienic conditions and infections.

How Chlorhexidine Helps

Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that hospitals widely use to disinfect skin and sterilize surgical equipment, comes in both liquid and gel form and is generally affordable. A study in Nepal showed that the use of chlorhexidine significantly reduced the risk of infection by 68% and minimized child deaths by 23%, USAID reported. The study led to the start of the 2009 USAID-led chlorhexidine program, supported by the Government of Nepal. Following the successful results visible in the program, chlorhexidine became a part of the entire nation’s medical care in 2011. In regions where people prefer home birth and use risky methods of birthing, chlorhexidine has helped save the lives of numerous children.

The application of this solution has decreased child mortality in Nepal and could impact the entire region’s child mortality rate. Chlorhexidine could also benefit regions like sub-Saharan Africa where infant deaths remain a concern.

– Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

Neonatal disorders in TanzaniaIn Tanzania, neonatal disorders are the leading cause of death. Each year, 51,000 babies die within the first month. Nearly 66% of neonatal disorders in Tanzania are avoidable with proper access to essential care for both the child and mother. Recognizing this, Tanzania has plans in place to reduce both maternal and child mortality rates in the country.

Causes of Neonatal Deaths

The hospitals and pharmacies in Tanzania lack access to the proper equipment for cleaning, sterilization and treatment. Roughly 37% of pharmacies and 22% of health facilities do not have access to injectable antibiotics. Furthermore, about 60-80% of pharmacies and health facilities do not have resources for sterilization. In addition, 50% of health facilities do not have access to soap, water or hand sanitizer and 20% do not have disinfectant products.

This lack of resources has a significant impact on neonatal disorders in Tanzania. Infections are common among newborns and difficulties are frequent among mothers without proper attention and treatment in a sanitary medical facility. In Tanzania, asphyxia accounts for 22.3% of early neonatal deaths, respiratory distress accounts for 20.8%, preterm birth accounts for 12% and sepsis accounts for 11.6% of neonatal deaths. Furthermore, malaria, meningitis and pneumonia contribute to 7.4% of neonatal deaths. The added risk of maternal complications cause 8.6% of deaths among newborns.

How Poverty Impacts Care

Throughout the country of Tanzania, there are vast disparities in healthcare in different regions. This variance is because of varying economic development throughout the country. Areas that are more developed and advanced, with less poverty, can provide better assistance to patients because the areas have more resources to rely on. At the same time, mothers and children with improved chances of survival are able to economically contribute to decreasing poverty.

Tanzania aims to lower its neonatal mortality rate. Doing this will put the country at a lower risk of overpopulation and will reduce the 27.2% poverty rate, which affects hospitals’ abilities to care for and protect their patients. The health facilities cannot provide the necessary treatment, medical resources and medical staff without the necessary funds. Tanzania recognizes that an increase of neonatal deaths means the country will continue to struggle with poverty. The only way to address this is to focus on improving conditions for mothers and children.

One Plan II

Announced in 2016, the Tanzanian One Plan II places access to reproductive health services and reducing infant and maternal deaths as the priorities for the country. The ultimate objective of this plan is to improve the welfare and success of the country by improving neonatal healthcare. The original One Plan began in 2008 and established many of these same goals to be met by 2015.

The One Plan established the goal to lower the neonatal mortality rate to 19 out of 1,000 births by 2015, but this was not achieved. In 2015, neonatal mortality stood at 22%. However, there was progress in other areas as the number of women giving birth in the presence of a qualified professional increased from 43% in 2004 to 51% in 2010. At the same time, the number of women giving birth in proper health facilities also increased. In 2014, the maternal mortality rate was 574 deaths per 100,000 births.

A Hopeful Future

Since the start of the One Plan II and other similar plans, neonatal disorders in Tanzania have declined. The latest neonatal mortality rate is now 20 deaths per 1,000 live births. Additionally, the maternal death rate has continued to decline to 524 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. As the country makes this progress, it also hopes to see progress economically. Vaccinations, sanitization efforts and health facility progress allows Tanzania to not only improve survival rates but also fight the widespread poverty in the country.

– Delaney Gilmore
Photo: Flickr

Child Mortality in UgandaFatal diseases are taking the lives of children in Uganda, claiming the futures of the young generation. Approximately 8.2 million children younger than 5 die annually due to various illnesses and complications during childbirth. Roughly 40% of these deaths occur within the first 30 days of life, falling into the category of neonatal deaths. Rates of child mortality in Uganda have been on a decline since 1970 when there were 191 infant deaths among 1,000 births. Today, there are 45.8 deaths in 1,000 births. Although there is a marked decrease in numbers, under-five deaths still pose a problem for Uganda. Fortunately, many organizations recognize the issue and are implementing programs to effectively combat it.

Causes of Child Mortality in Uganda

Roughly 16% of child mortality cases in Uganda are caused by pneumonia. Symptoms of the illness include chest pain, persistent coughing, fever and low body temperature. About 99% of pneumonia cases occur in less-developed countries such as Uganda, making clear the correlation between poverty and pneumonia. In poverty-stricken areas, malnutrition, poor air quality and limited access to healthcare cause the development and dispersion of pneumonia among a population. Children in Uganda are vulnerable and quickly become victims of the illness.

Malaria also leads to child mortality in Uganda. Malaria is a fatal disease caused by parasites that spread from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache and chills. Young children are especially susceptible to the disease, and in 2019, 67% of malaria cases affected children younger than 5. The illness can kill children within 30 seconds. Malaria is most common in Africa and costs the continent $12 billion each year. Access to treatment is difficult to obtain in the poverty-stricken areas of Uganda where malaria dissipates. The most impoverished areas of Africa are the ones most affected by malaria, with children younger than 5 at most risk.

Finally, diarrhea causes 10% of infant deaths in Uganda. Symptoms of the infection include cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. Studies have shown that in Pajule Subcounty and other rural areas of Uganda, the rates of diarrhea are higher. A lack of clean water and inadequate health education contribute to these health consequences.

Working Toward a Solution

Recognizing the issues that surround child mortality in Uganda, many organizations have taken the initiative to reduce the severity of the situation. One such organization is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is dedicated to the well-being and longevity of children worldwide. Among its many programs to address under-five deaths in Uganda, UNICEF has established a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program seeking to increase access to clean drinking water and teach healthy sanitation habits. Only 8% of mothers with children younger than 5 have access to soap and resources necessary for handwashing. Such habits lead to illnesses such as diarrhea. In tandem with the Government of Uganda, UNICEF is working to provide sanitation resources and increase awareness of healthy habits.

With similar intentions and efforts, Living Goods is a nonprofit organization collaborating with Bangladesh-based BRAC to help rural Ugandan mothers prevent infant mortality. Through its Community Health Promoters (CHP) program, the organization implements grassroots efforts to improve community health. CHPs are workers who go door-to-door to communicate healthy practices, relay important information, diagnose child illnesses and provide care to mothers and their newborns. This work has led to a 27% decrease in under-five child mortality in targeted regions. Ugandan villagers now take more precautions in order to maintain their own health and that of their young children.

Looking Ahead

Child mortality in Uganda is a problem that has not yet been eliminated. Many Ugandan families face unhealthy living conditions that are unfavorable to a child’s health. However, organizations such as UNICEF, Living Goods and BRAC are working to educate rural villages on the importance of sanitation and are giving families the resources to establish healthier lifestyles. Thanks to such efforts, under-five death rates are declining. If the work of these organizations continues, in the near future, more positive progress lies ahead.

– Mariam Kazmi
Photo: Unsplash

UNICEF's pledge to help children The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it physical, social and economic impacts that have been felt worldwide. Developing countries, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Furthermore, women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19. In September 2020, UNICEF called on the international community to take action “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a child-rights crisis.” UNICEF’s pledge to help children during the COVID-19 pandemic targets 192 vulnerable countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Health

Children are not as vulnerable to the direct physical impacts of COVID-19, but nevertheless, children worldwide suffer from the indirect impacts of COVID-19. The BBC reports that in South Asia, the disruption of essential services such as nutrition and immunization programs has led to 228,000 deaths of children younger than 5. During COVID-19, “the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal.”

Furthermore, “immunization among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.” In 2020, across South Asian nations, India experienced the highest increase in child mortality at 15.4%. The COVID-19 virus has abruptly halted many essential programs and services that helped safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in developing countries.

The disruption of health services has also affected adolescents battling diseases such as typhoid, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The BBC reports almost 6,000 deaths across South Asia stemming from the inability to access the required treatment. The deficiency in medical services also resulted in 400,000 unwanted pregnancies in teenagers due to inadequate access to contraception.

Child Labor and Child Marriage

The COVID -19 pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment and reduced household income, causing a rise in cases of child labor, reports Human Rights Watch. Parental deaths stemming from COVID-19 leave children orphaned, unable to have their basic needs met. UNICEF warns the international community that “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.” The organization estimates that 10 million more girls are now at risk of child marriage due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Impacts of School Closures

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, 91% of all students across more than 188 countries could not receive an education due to school closures. School closures deprive children “of physical learning opportunities, social and emotional support available in schools and extra services such as school meals.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face more barriers than children from more affluent families. These vulnerable children are at risk of losing the most in terms of educational progress.

The UNICEF Pledge

UNICEF has committed to work alongside “governments, authorities and global health partners” to ensure medicines, vaccines, nutritional resources and other vital supplies reach the most vulnerable people. UNICEF is prioritizing safe school reopenings, ensuring all safety protocols are in place. Where schools cannot reopen, UNICEF is working to develop “innovative education solutions” and provide remote learning support.

Since a lack of internet connectivity and electricity presents a barrier to online learning in impoverished communities, UNICEF has committed to ” bridge the digital divide and bring internet connectivity to 3.5 billion children and young people by 2030.” UNICEF is also working with governments and partners to ensure that children’s rights form a central part of COVID-19 response plans.

As the pandemic continues, the future is still unclear. During an unprecedented global crisis, UNICEF’s pledge to help children during COVID-19 shows its ongoing commitment to upholding children’s rights globally.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Liberia
Faced with two civil wars, Liberia has experienced years of poverty. With more than 80% of Liberians living in poverty, the country has been trying to revitalize its economy. Child poverty in Liberia is significant as well. Moreover, the mortality rate for children is high. In addition to this, Liberia ranks in the bottom 10 countries on the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index considers life expectancy, education and income.

Child Poverty in Liberia

According to Action Against Hunger, a stable environment for those living in Liberia has yet to emerge. Funding for healthcare facilities has significantly decreased. Liberian children often do not have proper access to education and healthcare and frequently face abuse or trafficking. As a result of this, many children live on the streets. Furthermore, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition and one in five do not receive proper nourishment. Meanwhile, about 84% of Liberians live below the international poverty line and make around $1.25 a day.

Uncertain Employment Positions

The Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) collected the following data. The overall information reveals that over 50% live in extreme poverty. In addition to this, 51.2% of families experience food shortages. This survey also shows that unemployment stands at 3.9%, meaning that Liberia has a low unemployment rate. However, the survey characterized around 79.5% of people as having uncertain employment positions whereas 79.9% of people had an informal form of employment.

While Liberia may have a low unemployment rate, many Liberians find it difficult to provide a stable life for their children and family as women average around 5.2 children. Due to small daily wages, women cannot meet children’s financial needs, reiterating the high mortality rate and low life expectancy that Liberian children experience. Due to a parent’s inability to care for a large family, children end up working at young ages.

Organizations Helping Liberian Children

For the past two decades, Save the Children has been addressing Liberian children that the civil war affected. This organization provides aid in areas such as healthcare and protection. It also assists children by providing them tools such as education and spearheading advocacy for child rights. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of many donors that helps Save the Children.

Action Aid is another organization that is assisting impoverished children in Liberia. Action Aid strives to attain social justice and equality and mitigate poverty. This group focuses on women and the younger generations to improve the quality of healthcare, education and children’s rights.

Many efforts have emerged to address the conditions in Liberia, including child poverty. The World Bank has provided $54 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to improve Liberia’s health services for women and children. The IFISH (Institutional Foundations to Improve Services for Health) project has spearheaded the expansion and operations of hospitals. An example is the Redemption Hospital located in Montserrado County. The multiple projects and initiatives should hopefully aid in the elimination of child poverty in Liberia.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Child mortality in EgyptIn 2020, the rate of child mortality in Egypt was about five times lower than the rate in 1990, a crucial improvement that displays the effectiveness of programs addressing the issue. Since 1994, the government and partnering NGOs have made significant efforts to reduce child mortality in Egypt. As a result, the country has surpassed its objectives for Millenium Development Goal 4. There are several reasons for Egypt’s considerable success in improving children’s health.

5 Reasons for Decreased Child Mortality in Egypt

  1. Public health programs. Arguably one of the most significant projects in the fight against child mortality in Egypt is the government’s immunization campaign. With the introduction of the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), infants received greater protection against diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and tetanus. More than 90% of children aged 18-29 months were fully immunized in 2014. Additionally, the government established initiatives centering on mothers’ health. The Healthy Mother/Healthy Child Programme from 1993 to 2009 was significant in reducing socioeconomic and regional disparities in child and maternal health facilities and services. The program played a part in the increase of medically assisted deliveries from 38% in 1988 to 80% in 2008.
  2. Government partnerships with NGOs. The resources and support provided by NGOs boosted the success of government programs. The Ministry of Health and Population worked closely with UNICEF as part of the Young Child Survival and Development program to launch initiatives to improve maternal and child mortality by ensuring services in disadvantaged areas to promote health, nutrition and hygiene awareness. The World Bank also financed the Health Quality Improvement Programme, which focused on improving the quality of care in Egypt’s medical facilities located in the most impoverished areas.
  3. Improvements in health sector infrastructure and access. As of 2014, there were 5,000 public primary care facilities and 1,100 public hospitals across Egypt. This, in addition to well-developed roads, means most rural and urban citizens reside within five kilometers of a healthcare center. All these factors mean healthcare is widely accessible. Furthermore, the number of trained medical professionals has increased. Between 1990 and 2012 the number of doctors per 1,000 individuals increased by a factor of 8, according to the World Health Organization. Although regional discrepancies still exist, the Egyptian government continues to establish legislation and programs to improve health.
  4. Health information monitoring and sharing. The collection of data on child mortality rates and general health has allowed the government to monitor progress and implement more informed healthcare strategies. Data has informed previous child and maternal health programs and has contributed greatly to the successes of initiatives. The government has prioritized broadcasting messages through the media to educate people on steps to take to improve maternal and child health.
  5. Government actions and priorities. The government’s commitment to women’s and children’s health has contributed to the decrease in child mortality in Egypt. During the years 1989-1999 and 2000-2010, the health of mothers and children became a principal concern for the Egyptian government. Furthermore, the 1988 creation of the parastatal National Council for Children and Mothers prioritizes the needs of mothers and children and ensures that legislation prioritizes children and women too.

A Better Future

Though socioeconomic inequalities remain, Egypt has made many improvements in children’s health. Through cooperation with NGOs, government health programs and a revitalization of the health sector, child mortality in Egypt has decreased exponentially. With continued efforts to promote maternal and child health, Egypt has laid a strong foundation for continued success.

Sarah Stolar
Photo: Flickr

Congenital Anomalies
Worldwide, congenital anomalies cause approximately 295,000 deaths of children within their first 28 days of life. Every year, about 7.9 million children are born with life-threatening defects and 3.3 million children under the age of five5 die from congenital disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), congenital anomalies are structural or functional aberrations that occur during intrauterine life. The most common congenital disabilities include heart defects, cleft lip (palate), down syndrome and split spine (also known as spina bifida). Although 50% of all congenital disabilities do not have a single definite cause, common causes include genetic mutation, environmental factors and various other risk factors.

Geographic Disparities

Although congenital disabilities are widespread globally, they are particularly prevalent in developing countries. Developing countries account for 94% of worldwide congenital disabilities.

The level of income -both individual and national- in developing countries is a crucial factor that indirectly influences the high incidence of congenital disabilities. Low income affects the incidence of congenital disabilities in developing countries in the following ways:

  • Poor Access to Adequate Maternal Healthcare for Women During Pregnancy: About 99% of the global maternal mortality cases occur in low-income countries due to inadequate maternal care.
  • Poor Maternal Nutritional Condition: Deficiency of vitamin B can, for instance, escalate chances of birthing a baby with neural tube defects.
  • Excessive Prenatal Alcohol Consumption: Pregnant mothers’ consumption of alcohol increases their risks of giving birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a total of the damage – both physical and mental – to an unborn child as a result of their mother’s alcohol consumption.
  • Presence of Other Infections: Some sexually transmitted diseases can transfer from a pregnant mother to her child. For example, syphilis during pregnancy accounts for an estimated 305 000 fetal and neonatal deaths annually. It also jeopardizes 215,000 infant lives due to congenital infections, prematurity or low-birth-weight.

How WHO is Taking Action

The World Health Organization has taken and implemented various measures to fight congenital anomalies. In the 2010 World Health Assembly, WHO took on a resolution encouraging its member states to fight against congenital anomalies by:

  • Raising awareness throughout governments and the public about congenital disabilities and the risk they impose on children’s lives
  • Developing congenital disabilities surveillance systems
  • Providing consistent support to children affected by congenital anomalies
  • Ensuring that children with disabilities have the same rights and equal treatment as children without disabilities
  • Assisting families whose children have congenital disabilities

In addition to the resolution, WHO designed a manual that showed illustrations and photographs of selected birth defects. The manual’s primary purpose was to foster further development of the surveillance system, especially in low-income countries.

The Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health

In 2016, WHO went an extra mile and published the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents Health 2016-2030, an updated version of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health devised five years prior. The Global Strategy’s grand theme was “Survive, Thrive, Transform.”

  • Survive: “Survive” encompassed various goals that the Global Strategy hoped to accomplish. These include ending preventable deaths, lowering maternal mortality rates and newborn deaths among others.
  • Thrive: The main target was promoting health and wellbeing by responding to the dietary needs of children, adolescents and pregnant & lactating women.
  • Transform: This objective’s primary goal was to create a safe and nurturing environment by terminating extreme poverty. Poverty one of the leading causes of congenital disabilities.

Results

Over the years, the World Health Organization’s relentless efforts in battling against congenital disabilities have made remarkable progress in alleviating the issue. For instance, the number of newborn deaths has plummeted from 5 million to 2.4 million between 1990 and 2019, thanks to the various innovations and programs put in place. Although the current state of affairs is far from ideal, past accomplishments lay the groundwork and identify clear steps for future progress.

Mbabazi Divine
Photo: Flickr

Universal Healthcare is Saving Children in MaliBeing a child in the impoverished, conflict-riddled country of Mali is not easy. Lack of healthcare is one of the major factors contributing to the issue of child poverty. One in 10 children does not live to see their fifth birthday. The primary causes of death are pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. All these diseases are completely preventable. Children who survive must often work to help provide for their families instead of getting an education. The Malian government is aiming for universal healthcare in Mali, starting with a focus on pregnant women and children under 5.

Conflict in Mali

Mali is a landlocked country located in West Africa and one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that 49% of Malians live below the extreme poverty line. With more than half of the country’s entire population under the age of 18, child poverty is an ongoing crisis.

Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 and has since struggled for stability. Decades of conflict have wreaked havoc on the people living within Mali’s borders.The most recent conflict began in 2012 when a group of rebels, backed by several Islamic militant groups, overthrew the government in a military coup. These alliances did not last long, and as a result, sparked violence that spread across the country. The struggle for land and power continues to this day. In 2018, nearly one-third of Mali’s population lived in areas directly affected by the conflict. As war wages on, child poverty in Mali continues to increase.

A Child’s Life in Mali

Mali’s youth have taken the brunt of the devastation caused by the continuing violence. Many lack necessities like access to clean water, food, education and healthcare. Children under the age of 5 are most vulnerable, and without accessible healthcare, many preventable diseases turn deadly.

Before the 2012 conflict, great strides were being made in the development of programs and policies to improve the conditions of child poverty in Mali. Infant mortality was on the decline, the number of children enrolled in school increased by 10% and there was a dramatic rise in birth registries. Registry of birth is extremely vital because when a child is unregistered, they do not carry the same rights and protections as those who are. Registration at birth assists in securing a child’s access to human rights protections under laws against child marriage, labor and recruitment into armed forces before the legal age. Without documentation to prove identity, education, healthcare and the right to vote become inaccessible.

UNICEF’s Efforts

The country’s instability has halted much of the progression. However, humanitarian organizations like UNICEF, continue to work toward the goal of ensuring every child’s rights are upheld. UNICEF is currently working on four key elements of child welfare in Mali:

  1. Vaccinations: UNICEF targets communities with the highest number of unvaccinated children and uses proven strategies to supply vaccinations for the most common diseases.
  2. Malnutrition Prevention: Educating families within the first 1,000 days of life on proper nutrition, vaccination benefits and hygiene has been successful in decreasing infant mortality rates.
  3. Education: Distributing learning materials and helping train teachers to ensure children have the best quality education possible is a high priority.
  4. Child marriage: UNICEF is assisting the Malian government in developing policies to end the practice of child marriage. This entails encouraging leadership on local levels to adopt progressive policies that promote social change for the betterment of the female children in their communities.

The Good News

The Malian government says it wants to see improvement in the lives of its people. For this reason, it is actively working to ensure free healthcare is available to all citizens. The ultimate hope is for universal healthcare in Mali.

Data obtained through a lifesaving pilot program that began in 2008 provides promising news. This trial program provides door-to-door healthcare in the town of Yirimadio, which is located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. When the trial began, the child mortality rate was 154 deaths per 1,000 births. Upon the trial’s completion, the child mortality rate had decreased by a staggering 95%.

This free door-to-door health care program was so successful that Mali’s government has committed to having this healthcare program available nationwide by 2022. At this time, the plan is offered to pregnant women and children under the age of 5. Mali’s health minister, Samba Ousmane Sow, said, “We are trying to make Mali be great again, to improve our healthcare system and save lives and we are hoping this will help us reach universal healthcare with a very powerful, improved system.”

The Road Ahead

The primary concern is ensuring healthcare professionals have the training and provisions to provide the service. The Malian government is seeking ways to become self-sustaining in its quest for universal healthcare as it is saving children in Mali. Currently, it is reliant on external donors to supplement government funding. Nonetheless, amid conflict, there lies hope for the future.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Children in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in Western Africa, is one of the least developed countries in the world. About 36.7% of the more than 20 million people who live in the nation survive on less than $1.90 per day as of 2019.  Nearly 2.2 million people live in dire need of aid, with children accounting for close to 50% of those in need, according to UNICEF. This crisis has only worsened due to the ongoing conflicts in the Sahel region of Western Africa, which have displaced millions of Burkinabé people and put them at a higher risk of poverty. Children in Burkina Faso, who make up 45% of the population, face significant challenges — many of them have low access to nutrition, education and health care and often face child labor and child marriage.

5 Challenges Children in Burkina Faso Face

  1. Hunger and Malnutrition. While Burkina Faso has always struggled with hunger, with 25% of children suffering from stunting due to malnutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The number of Burkinabé people in need of emergency food assistance has risen threefold to more than 3.2 million people as of August 2020, and many of those suffering from malnutrition are children. Doctors and nurses in Burkina Faso are reporting extremely high numbers of malnourished children entering their health care facilities each day. Prior to the pandemic, Burkinabé children experienced hunger as a result of displacement from the conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region.
  2. Education. While attending primary school is compulsory for children in Burkina Faso between the ages of 7 and 14, this rule is not enforced and about 36% of children do not attend school. Additionally, 67% of girls older than the age of 15 do not know how to read or write. The high levels of poverty in the country lead to low levels of education. Furthermore, the conflicts in the area have only made it more difficult for children to access and attend schools. Armed groups have raided the schools, injuring teachers and putting Burkinabé children in danger.
  3. Health Care. Burkina Faso has the 10th-highest under-5 mortality rate in the world, with 87.5 out of every 1,000 children in 2019 dying before their fifth birthday. In addition, about 54 infants die per every 1,000 live births. The majority of children’s deaths are from communicable diseases and malaria, which the nation has struggled to prevent and control. While the number of health care workers in the area has increased in the past few decades, particularly between 2006 and 2010, it has not been quite enough to combat the needs of the ever-growing population and many children in the area still go without health care access.
  4. Child Marriage. More than half of Burkinabé children enter into marriage before their 18th birthday and the country has the fifth-highest rate of child marriage in the world. One in 10 girls younger than 19 has already given birth to at least one child. Girls with limited access to education have a higher chance of marrying as children. The same holds true for girls who live in impoverished households. Both of these trends remain common in Burkina Faso. The apparent social value ascribed to girls in the region is considered lower than their male counterparts. As a result, young girls who enter child marriages often do not have a choice in whom they marry.
  5. Child Labor. About 42% of children in Burkina Faso engage in child labor instead of attending school. Though the government adopted a “National Strategy to End the Worst Forms of Child Labor” and raised the legal minimum working age to 16, these high rates of child labor have not decreased significantly over the past few years. These children work as cotton harvesters, miners of gold and granite, domestic workers, and in some rare cases, sex workers. Child labor puts children at risk of serious injury, exploitation, and in some extreme cases, even death.

While children in Burkina Faso face all of these challenges, work is in progress to help them receive an education and reach their full potential. Save the Children, UNICEF, Action Against Hunger and Girls Not Brides are just a handful of the organizations working in Burkina Faso to ensure that these children receive the care necessary. Enduring childhood in this region is, in fact, difficult. Yet, there is hope as these groups work to improve the lives of children across Burkina Faso.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

reducing maternal and child mortalityA woman in Africa is more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Western Europe. The lack of nurses and midwives in comparison to Europe can have a significant impact on pregnancy and postpartum health care as well as maternal mortality in Africa. However, organizations and businesses are helping to improve the well-being of African women. Here are four mobile services reducing maternal and child mortality rates in Africa.

Springster

This mobile platform “connects marginalized and vulnerable girls to online content designed to equip them with knowledge, confidence and connections they need to navigate the complex choices of adolescence.”

Individuals can access Springster’s content through social media channels like Facebook to provide a space for girls to engage in topics like puberty, education, money management and relationships. The app is based on sharing real-life experiences and helping girls make positive choices to change their lives for the better.

A major innovation with the app is Big Sis. Big Sis is a chatbot designed to provide personalized information about questions related to sexual health. This enables girls to find advice and answers 24/7. The app has impacted many girls’ lives with the reassurance and advice from shared stories and experiences from other girls like them. As a result, girls are able to provide guidance and support to each other.

Mum & Baby

This service sends free health information via SMS three times a week to mothers, caregivers and partners. When people sign up for the service, they provide their age, location and stage of parenting they need help with from early pregnancy to taking care of a 5-year-old.

After inputting the personal information, Mum & Baby sends out personalized messages to the user depending on the information given. Along with the messages, there is a free mobile site that does not use data. Instead, it offers articles, videos, tutorials and tools like the immunization calendar, due date calculator and pregnancy medicine checker.

A study was conducted to see the impact Mum & Baby has on people using the service. The study indicates that 96% of users found the information via texts helpful and 98% of users say they would take action to care for themselves or their children.

Of the mothers and pregnant women surveyed, 95% of them say the information they received influenced their decision to breastfeed. Moreover, the Mum & Baby service influenced 96% of participants to vaccinate their children. More than 650,000 children received immunizations as a result of free text messages.

RapidSMS in Rwanda

This mobile service is similar to Mum & Baby in the sense that it shares information via SMS. However, with this mobile platform, community health workers are equipped with mobile devices to collect and use real-time data on key maternal, neonatal and child health indicators.

The service collects data within the “first 1,000 days of life” from pregnancy to childbirth and from the newborn stage until the child reaches age 2. This also includes a broad range of areas of childcare such as antenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, growth monitoring and even death indicators such as maternal and child mortality.

The mobile platform records the indicators and generates reminders for appointments, delivery and postnatal care visits. There is also an emergency care platform called Red Alerts. There is also a creation of a database of clinical records on maternal care delivery.

UNICEF did a study on RapidSMS to measure its effects on maternal and child mortality. RapidSMS has contributed to some changes in the use of health care services and maternal and child mortality and has overall led to improvements in health outcomes for mothers and children in Rwanda.

M-Mama’s Ambulance Taxi

This application “uses mobile technology to connect women in rural areas of Africa to emergency transport.” The project began in 2013 to help women in rural Tanzania gain access to health care where almost half of the women there give birth at home without the assistance of a health care worker. Many mothers and children die from preventable birth complications due to the lack of health systems and delayed access to care. The creators of M-Mama intend to change these circumstances and reduce maternal mortality rates, in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

The process of M-Mama’s ambulance taxi project starts when a patient makes a call to a 24-hour dispatch center. A call handler will then access the condition of the patient using the app, which would indicate whether the patient needs a transfer to a health facility. If health care is required, the call handler will notify the nearest taxi through the app, requesting the taxi driver to take the patient to the hospital. This way, taxis act as a cost-effective ambulance for the patient. The driver will receive payment after safely escorting the patient to the hospital. Since M-Mama’s start, the Lake Zone regions of Tanzania have noted a 27% reduction in maternal mortality rates.

Looking Ahead

These mobile apps are reducing maternal and child mortality rates in Africa. Through the mobile services’ resources and aid, young girls can make better decisions and expecting mothers can get the help they need despite their remote locations. Reducing maternal and child mortality rates by 1% can increase GDP by about 4.6% in African countries.

However, one issue that stands in the way is the lack of access to mobile phones and the internet. Women in sub-Saharan Africa are 13% less likely to own a phone and 37% less likely to access the internet on mobile.

The more investment there is to reduce maternal and child mortality rates in Africa, the more it will generate social and economic benefits for sub-Saharan Africa. To do that, governments and nonprofit organizations need to work to close the gender gap and develop mobile health services. These efforts will help women become informed and make healthier decisions.

– Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr