“Despite good rains across much of the Sahel this year, 1.4 million children are expected to be malnourished — up from one million in 2012, according to the 2013 Sahel regional strategy,” IRIN reports. “The strategy, which calls on donors to provide $1.6 billion of aid for 2013, says fewer people are expected to go hungry in 2013 — 10.3 million instead of 18.7 million in 2012,” the news service writes.
Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
“Twenty years ago this month, the first text message was sent through the airwaves,” Sharon D’Agostino, vice president for worldwide corporate contributions and community relations at Johnson & Johnson, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, adding, “Since then, text messages have been used to communicate all sorts of information. Most inspiring to me is how the technology once used to send a holiday wish is transforming the way women and families receive the information they need to be healthier — no matter where in the world they are.” She discusses several initiatives working with mobile technologies to improve health education and access, and states, “The ubiquity of the mobile phone provides the perfect method to deliver critical health information, as more than a billion women in low- and middle-income countries have access to a mobile phone” (12/20).
“[T]here [is] reason for optimism about the health of the world’s youngest,” columnist Tina Rosenberg writes in the New York Times “Opinionator” blog, noting, “A massive study published last week called the Global Burden of Disease report found that in the past 20 years, the death rate of children under five has dropped in every country in the world save three — Kuwait, Tonga and Zimbabwe.” She details some of the report findings and highlights a number of “cheap global programs” that have contributed to progress over the years, including vaccines, nutritional supplements, family planning, oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhea, and bed nets, among others.
“Health programs integrating services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV into regular maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) clinics, rather than operating PMTCT services as stand-along programs, are showing positive results in Kenya, experts say,” PlusNews reports. “Some 13,000 Kenyan children contract HIV annually; the country is among some 22 nations accounting for 90 percent of all pregnant women living with HIV,” according to the news service. PlusNews examines how “[t]he government is now moving towards the integration of HIV and other public health services, part of efforts to strengthen the overall health system,” in order to reach its goal of eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission by 2015 (12/19).
“Nigeria is one of only three countries — along with Afghanistan and Pakistan — that remains blighted by polio,” Aliko Dangote, founder and CEO of the Dangote Group and chair of the Dangote Foundation, writes in a Project Syndicate opinion piece. He notes Nigeria is “one of Africa’s most developed countries,” “the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Africa,” home to “thriving Nigerian businesses,” and “will soon surpass South Africa to become Africaâ€™s largest economy.” However, “Nigerians cannot hope to lead Africa, economically or otherwise, while neglecting to eliminate preventable diseases like polio,” he writes.
On Wednesday, USAID, “along with representatives from seven government agencies and departments, [launched] the first-ever, whole-of-government strategic guidance on international assistance for children in adversity,” a USAID press release reports. The goal of the guidance — titled “United States Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity: A Framework for International Assistance: 2012-2017” and drafted by the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor, and State, USAID and the Peace Corps — “is to achieve a world where all children live and grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation, and danger,” the press release states (12/17).
“Small ceramic indoor stoves, such as those sold by women in AIDS self-help groups in Africa, do save fuel and cut down on eye-irritating smoke, a new study has found — but they do not save children from pneumonia,” the New York Times reports. “The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, compared 168 households in rural Kenya that used either ‘upesi jiko’ [ceramic] stoves or traditional three-stone indoor fires,” the newspaper writes, noting, “Biweekly visits by researchers found that children in both the stove and open-fire homes got pneumonia equally often” (McNeil, 12/17). Though the ceramic stoves have some benefits, such as reduced smoke in the home and lower risk of burns, Rob Quick, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the research team, said, “[O]ur group is studying six novel cookstove technologies designed to cleaner burning, and we should have results in the next few months to see if one or more of these cookstove designs offer potential for reducing the risk of pneumonia,” according to VOA News (Lewis, 12/17).
“Campaigns to lower the rate of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Sierra Leone are having some impact, but efforts to ban the practice have failed thus far, and despite a push to communicate its health risks, many still believe FGM/C promotes good health and hygiene,” IRIN reports in an article examining political efforts to ban or discourage the practice. In October 2012, eight of the country’s 14 districts signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) criminalizing FGM/C among children, but “[w]hile the new government hails the MOU as a milestone achievement, critics argue that it has not achieved much,” according to the news service, which also examines the impact of health education campaigns. “‘The issue of FGM/C is sensitive. If those advocating against FGM/C win, we will join them later. But if they lose, we will support our people. We cannot afford to lose our ballots because of putting a ban on FGM/C of the girl child,’ said a leading politician from the ruling All People’s Congress party,” IRIN writes (12/17).
Neil Boothby, U.S. government special adviser and senior coordinator to the USAID administrator on children in adversity, writes in a USAID “IMPACTblog” post that the international community has scientific evidence and empirical data “that sho[w] investments made early in the lives of children yield greater returns than at any other point in the life cycle.” Noting the June launch of the Child Survival Call to Action, Boothby writes, “As an important follow on to this global effort, this week the first-ever U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (.pdf) will be released.” He continues, “With significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around this sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity — children who face poverty, live on the streets or in institutions, are exploited for their labor or sex, recruited into armed groups, affected by HIV/AIDS, or separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster” (12/17).
“Lawmakers on Monday approved legislation calling for government-funded contraception and sex education classes in the Philippines, a first in the heavily Catholic nation,” CNN reports (12/17). The House of Representatives and the Senate … approved the Reproductive Health (RH) bill on third and final reading, pushing the controversial bill a step closer to being signed into law,” the Philippine Star writes (Diola/Cerda, 12/17). “Voting 13-8 with no abstention, the Senate passed the RH bill on third and final reading,” Inquirer News notes, adding, “At the House of Representatives, lawmakers voted 133 to 79 with seven abstentions to approve its version of the measure” (Ager/Santos, 12/17).