Guinea-Bissau suffers from high poverty rates, political instability, social disparity and health challenges. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 66% of the population lives more than 5 km from the nearest health care facility. There is only one health center for more than 13,500 inhabitants, with most of the health care services located in Bissau and the regional capitals. This excludes the rural areas where people can’t benefit from health care.
Child survival rates in Guinea-Bissau are on the low side. In fact, the European Commission reports that “Guinea-Bissau has particularly alarming indicators of maternal and child health, with the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world.”According to UNICEF, the under-5 mortality rate is 74% per 1,000 births. This number represents 4,693 children who die between 0-4 years old (0-59 months).
Additionally, the lack of health care practitioners is a significant challenge to health care for children in Guinea-Bissau. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, there were only 7,890 health workers in Guinea-Bissau as of 2018. This inadequacy of health care practitioners results in the inability of children to access required health care services. Alongside this problem, many important health care facilities are unavailable.
Health Care for Children in Guinea-Bissau: Progress
Guinea-Bissau had a population of more than 2 million in 2021. The country has developed significantly in terms of providing health care for kids in recent times. The government made efforts to improve access to health care services, particularly in rural areas. One of the key initiatives is the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which aims to provide essential vaccines to children under the age of 1. The country implemented the program in 2008 and this led to significant progress in the effort to minimize child mortality. According to the Lancet Global Health, “in 1999–2006, child mortality was higher in children who had not received measles vaccine than in those who had.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF have also implemented social protection programs to help vulnerable households cope with poverty. For example, cash transfer programs provide regular cash payments to low-income families so they can meet their basic needs. In addition, school feeding programs provide meals to schoolchildren, and this helps to improve their nutritional status and reduce absenteeism. These programs have positively impacted the health and well-being of children in Guinea-Bissau.
Through collaborations with international organizations like UNICEF and the WFP, efforts have been made to increase children’s access to health care services. The WFP “works to prevent and reduce malnutrition among children under 5 and pregnant and nursing women, providing nutritional support to 96,000 people. The organization also provides food to 6,500 people who are undergoing treatment for HIV or tuberculosis. This is to improve their general health and help minimize the side effects of the drugs.”
In the effort to combat malnutrition and its detrimental impact on children’s health and development, various nutrition programs have been implemented. One notable initiative is the provision of over 173,000 hot meals to school children by the WFP, which aims to encourage enrollment and regular attendance. Additionally, take-home food rations specifically targeted at female students have proven effective in promoting school attendance and retention among girls. The WFP is also actively involved in strengthening the government’s capacity to manage the school meals program, with the ultimate goal of transferring ownership to the government. As a result of these programs, the number of malnourished children in the country has significantly decreased.
The quality of health care services provided to children has improved as a result of investments in health care infrastructure, education and resources. Guinea-Bissau’s medical professionals can now detect and treat common ailments with more ease and as a result, are able to provide children with better care. Working with the Government and local NGOs, WFP helps to protect the livelihoods of vulnerable households and build their resilience to crises that could affect their food security.
The ongoing initiatives demonstrate the progressive advancement of children’s health care in Guinea-Bissau. With the continued investment and effort put into improving children’s healthcare in Guinea-Bissau, it is possible to advance the health and well-being of more children in the future.
– Lorraine Lin