UNICEF head wraps up Tibet visit aimed at slashing disparities with rest of China

1 September 2004

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) chief Carol Bellamy has completed a two-day visit to Tibet as part of an effort to refine strategies to reduce the stark disparities that affect much of Western China.

UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) chief Carol Bellamy has completed a two-day visit to Tibet as part of an effort to refine strategies to reduce the stark disparities that affect much of Western China.

"There has been much progress for women and children here, but there is still much work to do to catch up with the rest of China," Ms. Bellamy said yesterday. "We need to strengthen preventive health and do a better job of packaging interventions like education, sanitation and hygiene," she added.

Although there has been significant progress in primary health care in the last decade, Tibet still has the highest maternal and child mortality rates in China. UNICEF has been working with local government in Tibet since 1980.

In the last decade, child and maternal death rates in Tibet have dropped by around half, reflecting enormous gains. Still, child mortality stands at 53 per 1,000 live births and maternal mortality is over 400 per 100,000 live births, up to eight times higher than the national rate.

The UNICEF China programme is mounting intensive efforts, in collaboration with local partners, to develop new strategies to tackle these disparities over the next five years.

Ms. Bellamy, who visited families, health clinics and elementary schools in Naidung and Chongjie counties and received an up-close look at issues faced at village level through numerous discussions with parents, health workers and teachers, called for expanding preventive health practices as opposed to relying on traditional treatments of disease.

Tibet and much of Western China lag behind the rest of the country in the use of iodized salt to combat iodine deficiency, a problem which reduces IQ by 10 to 15 points. Household usage of iodized salt in Tibet is 39 per cent while the rate for China as a whole is over 95 per cent.

"We are gratified to see how the Government has met the substantial challenges in basic education, but with the dramatic social changes coming to China time is running out to help Tibet and all the Western provinces to catch up," Ms. Bellamy said, summing up her visit.

 

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