Kenya: UNICEF chief calls for redoubled efforts to improve health, education
With four out of five girls never even enrolled in school in north eastern Kenya and poor access to health services contributing to low immunization rates, high malaria incidence and high risk of maternal death, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for redoubled efforts to meet the daunting challenges.
“Right now, all the key indicators for children and women in North Eastern Province are unacceptable,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman told an audience that included several leading government officials during a visit over the weekend to Wajir in North Eastern Province.
“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are all about children,” she stressed, referring to a set of eight targets drawn up at the UN Millennium Summit five years ago to slash a host of socio-economic ills by 2015, including halving extreme poverty and hunger, cutting child mortality rates by two-thirds, and achieving universal primary education and access to health services.
“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.”
Ms. Veneman delivered drugs and supplies worth more than $30,000 to Wajir District Hospital for emergency obstetric care and nutrition, and expressed UNICEF’s strong support for school meals programmes.
“We all know that children who try to learn on an empty stomach, learn badly,” she said. “Providing children with a meal in the middle of the school day is an excellent way of improving their school performance and attendance.”
On Monday, she met with Kenyan President Moody Awori and leading private sector partners in Nairobi to launch a campaign against malaria focused on North Eastern Province, aiming to raise $450,000 locally by the end of the year.
“In taking on malaria you have chosen to fight a very important battle for Kenya’s children,” she told more than 30 chief executives and other leaders from the private sector who attended the launch.
Ms. Veneman’s stay in Kenya follows a visit to Uganda to highlight the plight of children caught up in the 19-year-long conflict with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). This is her second trip to Africa since she became UNICEF’s Executive Director in May.