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Boosted investment in health key to help Africa’s children, says UNICEF

Boosted investment in health key to help Africa’s children, says UNICEF

Stepped-up investment to enhance health systems in sub-Saharan Africa is essential to help the continent’s children, according to a new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched today.

“Every year, nearly 10 million children die before their fifth birthday and one half of these deaths occur in Africa,” said Ann M. Veneman, the agency’s Executive Director. “Where community-based integrated health systems are in place, lives can be saved.”

Child mortality has been slashed by at least 45 per cent in five African countries – Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – between 1990 and 2006, putting them on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

Although child mortality has dropped 14 per cent in the same time period in sub-Saharan Africa, it remains the most difficult place in the world for a child to survive, with one in every six children dying before their fifth birthday.

The report entitled “The State of Africa’s Children 2008” spotlights recent successes in child survival and primary health-care in sub-Saharan Africa. Measles deaths in the region have dropped 91 per cent between 2000 and 2006, while four of the world’s least developed nations – Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique – have seen their under-five mortality rates fall by at least 40 per cent since 1990.

The new study urges continued care for children, from pregnancy into childhood and adolescence, and this care must span the household, community, local clinic, district hospital and beyond.

In a related development, experts in yellow fever are taking part in a UNICEF-backed meeting to discuss recent vaccination campaigns in Togo, Mali and Senegal that immunized millions against the disease which is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes.

“We’re finally moving from outbreak response to preventing all children in the most vulnerable countries in Africa from contracting yellow fever,” said UNICEF Senior Health Adviser Edward Hoekstra.

Despite successes in campaigns in Togo, Mali and Senegal, “there’s more still to do, particularly with the 9 other African countries where the risk is greatest,” he said.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF show that there were over 200,000 cases of yellow fever and 52,000 deaths in 2005 in the 12 highest-risk African nations. It is estimated that the disease will cause 1.5 to 2.7 million deaths in these countries between 2006 and 2050.

The 28-29 May meeting is taking place at UNICEF’s New York headquarters and includes representatives from WHO.