In an unprecedented attempt to save the lives of 20,000 infants and children in the coming year, Ghana today began nationwide distribution of 2.1 million long-lasting bed nets as part of a massive integrated child health campaign backed by the United Nations.
“When children’s lives are at stake, you cannot stop at ordinary measures,” said Dorothy Rozga, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative for Ghana. “With this campaign Ghana is taking that extraordinary step we need to save young lives. This is a huge investment that will pay off for families, communities and the entire nation.”
The campaign, led by Ghana’s Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service and supported by Japan, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a consortium of development partners and the private sector, is being implemented against a startling backdrop of national infant and child mortality rates that have failed to improve over the last five years. Some 80,000 children under the age of five die every year in Ghana, most from preventable or treatable disease.
To help change that, efforts include the distribution of 1.5 million pamphlets to all primary schools to alert parents to the week-long campaign. Trained volunteers at 9,500 posts around the country are set to immunize millions of children against measles and polio, and give them Vitamin A supplements, and children in three northern regions will be de-wormed.
For the first time in Ghana’s history of national immunization days, all children under two will be given free insecticide-treated bed nets to help fight bites from mosquitoes carrying malaria, which causes one-quarter of all deaths of children under five.
The consistent use of treated bed nets alone could reduce all-cause child mortality by 20 per cent. But usage by pregnant women and infants is low, so long-term community education efforts will urge families to sleep together under the nets.
“What we are doing through this campaign is not only to ensure that we work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but also to invest in the future – the children of Ghana,” said Dr. Joachim Saweka, WHO’s Ghana representative. “We are making a lot of savings by ensuring that our children are protected against measles, polio, Vitamin A deficiency and malaria all at once.”