On Sunday, South Africa’s nine provinces began promoting the Tshwane Declaration, which “states unequivocal support for [exclusive breastfeeding (EBF)] for all infants up to six months, including HIV-exposed infants, who should receive antiretrovirals (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), as recommended in the 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines,” Inter Press Service reports. “But despite the clarity of the policy and its supporting data, vocal critics, including respected individuals from leading medical and academic institutions, have decried the choice,” the news service writes.
Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
“South Sudan officials are hopeful the country will soon be declared polio-free,” if the nation can go another four months without recording a polio case, VOA News reports. “Before 2008, the area that is now South Sudan had been considered free of polio,” but “[t]hat year the country was re-infected through an imported strain that originated in Nigeria,” the news service writes. The country has not recorded a new case in more than 32 months, Abdi Aden Mohamed, head of the WHO in South Sudan, said, adding, “We are very cautious in the sense of there are a number of countries surrounding South Sudan that cases might be here and there,” according to VOA. Volunteers working to vaccinate every child under the age of six recently concluded the country’s 24th immunization campaign since polio reappeared in the nation, the news service notes (Green, 3/30).
“Officials in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, [in] northwestern Somalia, are appealing for food aid and potable water for thousands of families who have lost their livelihoods in the current drought,” IRIN reports. “In February, [the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP)] provided food assistance to nearly 150,000 people in Somaliland, according to Challiss McDonough, WFP’s senior spokesperson for East, Central and Southern Africa,” according to the news service. Food insecurity in some areas is classified at “crisis level,” with children, expectant and nursing mothers, and the elderly most affected, IRIN notes. “WFP is shifting its focus from emergency assistance towards targeted programs, including building reservoirs, wells and roads which support communities’ resilience to seasonal shocks, according to spokesperson McDonough, who said that in the past year WFP had doubled the number of nutrition programs in Somalia,” the news service writes (3/30).
Bloomberg News examines family planning in the Philippines, where “[o]ne in five women of reproductive age … have an unmet family planning need, the U.N. Population Fund says, leading to unintended pregnancies and population growth twice the Asian average.” The article focuses on a reproductive health bill in the country’s congress that would allow for “free or subsidized contraception, especially for the poor.” The bill “has been re-filed and blocked in each three-year congressional term since it was introduced in legislature 14 years ago amid opposition from the Catholic Church,” according to Bloomberg. However, with support from President Benigno Aquino, the bill “may be put to a vote in congress in three months,” the news service notes (Khan/Aquino, 3/27).
The results of a study (.pdf) published in Malaria Journal “suggest that funding for malaria prevention in Africa over the past decade has had a substantial impact on decreasing child deaths due to malaria,” according to the study’s abstract. Between 2001 and 2011, malaria prevention intervention scale-up helped prevent an estimated 842,800 malaria-related child deaths, an 8.2 percent decrease over the period had malaria intervention remained unchanged since 2000. The researchers note that 99 percent of the decline can be attributed to the use of insecticide-treated bednets. “Rapidly achieving and then maintaining universal coverage of these interventions should be an urgent priority for malaria control programs in the future,” the study concludes (Eisele et al., 3/28).
“Eradicating polio and improving the health of millions of children in Pakistan depend quite heavily on assuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines,” but “[t]he most recent policy prescription from the Pakistani parliament to improve immunization coverage, however, misses the mark, and badly,” Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center, writes in this Huffington Post “World” blog post. “A draft bill being finalized in the Pakistani parliament would require compulsory vaccination of all children, and would introduce tough penalties — including fines and imprisonment — for parents of unvaccinated children,” Levine says. However, supply issues may prevent some parents from being able to vaccinate children, and the threat of punishment may force some to falsify immunization records, he notes.
Instability and insecurity in some West and Central African nations are threatening the success of a 20-country polio vaccination campaign, which aims to immunize 111.1 million children against the disease, IRIN reports. Ongoing insurgent attacks threaten the campaign in Nigeria, the region’s only polio-endemic country and home to 57.7 million of the children targeted, the news service notes. Parts of Mali, Niger, and Chad also pose security problems for health care workers trying to access children in remote or disputed areas, according to IRIN. “Human error and weak health systems also play an important role in sub-optimal immunization reach,” the news service writes, noting so far, “only Ghana, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Togo have achieved the required 90 percent coverage, according to UNICEF” (3/23).
According to a report (.pdf) drafted by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union (A.U.) Commission that reviews the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for Africa, the continent recorded a slight drop in infant, child, and maternal mortality in 2011, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. Released at a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Thursday, the report showed that while North African nations are making good progress on maternal, infant, and child mortality indicators, countries in sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind U.N. goals for reducing mortality, the news service reports. In sub-Saharan Africa, the under-five mortality rate fell from 174 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 121 per 1,000 live births in 2009, and at least 24 nations in the region had a maternal mortality rate above 500 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008, according to PANA (3/23).
“Some 111.1 million children below the age of five are to be vaccinated against polio in a synchronized campaign covering 20 countries in West and Central Africa starting on Friday,” the WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement on Wednesday, PANA reports (3/21). The campaign, which will last for four days, “is intended to serve as a massive boost in efforts to eradicate the disease, and will involve national health ministries and U.N. agencies, as well as tens of thousands of volunteers who will go from door-to-door immunizing children,” the U.N. News Centre writes (3/21).
“Africa has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 48 percent of all global maternal deaths occurring in this region,” Jotham Musinguzi, regional director of the Partners in Population and Development Africa Regional Office in Kampala, Uganda, writes in an Independent opinion piece. But “[i]f we provide girls, women and their partners with family planning information and services we can empower them to decide the number, timing and spacing of their children — and whether they want to become pregnant at all,” he states, adding, “Intended pregnancies are safer and healthier pregnancies.”