The annual number of child deaths worldwide has fallen more than 40 percent since 1990, “the result of myriad improvements in nutrition, access to vaccines and antibiotics, cleaner deliveries, better care of infants immediately after birth, and the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets,” according to “the findings of a report released Wednesday by three United Nations agencies and the World Bank,” the Washington Post reports (Brown, 9/12). “In 1990, there were 12 million deaths of young children, but the latest figures … show that deaths had fallen by nearly half, to 6.9 million, by 2011,” the Guardian writes (Boseley, 9/12). “[T]he number of deaths is down by at least 50 percent in eastern, western and southeastern Asia, as well as in northern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean,” the report says, VOA News notes (Schlein, 9/12). However, “[i]n some, mainly sub-Saharan countries, the total number of deaths of children younger than five increased,” BBC News writes, adding, “The Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Somalia, Mali, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso saw annual deaths of children under five rise by 10,000 or more in 2011 as compared with 1990” (Doyle, 9/13).
Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
“The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said Nigeria was not on track in the effort to eradicate wild polio virus before the end of December this year,” Leadership/AllAfrica.com reports. Speaking at the 24th Expert Review Committee (ERC) Meeting on Polio Eradication in Abuja, Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration, said Nigeria had the tools and capacity to turn back the increasing number of polio cases that pose a “real and growing danger to international public health,” the news service notes. Aylward “recommended eight major steps for polio eradication for the country, including the implementation of the new house-based micro planning and monitoring method,” refresher training for all personnel to emphasize the emergency status declared by the WHO, and the identification and immunization of missed children and those in insecure areas, among others, according to the news service. ERC Chair Tomori Oyewale “called on Nigerians to change their attitude to polio eradication to ensure the success of the fight against the virus,” the news service writes (9/11).
Inter Press Service examines the reaction to calls for the WHO “to reverse its listing in April 2011 of misoprostol among essential medicines that ‘satisfy the health care needs of the majority of the population’ and are ‘available at all times in adequate amounts and in appropriate dosage forms, at a price the community can afford'” as a result of a study published in the August issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. “Originally intended for treating gastric ulcers, misoprostol has since 2000 been gaining in popularity for its ability to induce labor and stop postpartum hemorrhage (PPH),” according to the news service.
Most Asian Countries Fail To Include Rotavirus Vaccine In National Immunization Programs Citing Cost As Barrier
“Most countries in Asia have yet to make the rotavirus vaccine part of their national immunization program (NIP), despite a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to do so,” IRIN reports. “Worldwide, rotavirus accounts for 37 percent of all diarrhea deaths in children under five with 95 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries,” the news service states, noting, “There are no antibiotics or any other drug to fight the infection and since 2009 WHO has recommended the global use of the rotavirus vaccine.” Forty-one countries worldwide include rotavirus vaccine in their NIPs, but “only two countries in Asia — Philippines and Thailand — are vaccinating (or are about to) children against rotavirus,” according to IRIN. An email to IRIN from WHO’s Manila office stated, “Price continues to be an important barrier to introducing rotavirus vaccine,” the news service notes (9/7).
In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Sharon D’Agostino, vice president of worldwide corporate contributions and community relations for Johnson & Johnson, reflects on the two-day Child Survival Call to Action held in mid-June, writing, “An estimated seven hundred people from around the world traveled to the event in Washington, D.C., all embracing the theme that every child deserves to have a 5th birthday, no matter where on this planet she or he is born.” She continues, “I believe that we all have a responsibility to shout for newborns, for the soon-to-be-born, and for their mothers who so often are at risk of dying or suffering serious injury in trying to bring a new life into the world.” She notes September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month and states, “I urge us to proclaim September ‘Infant SURVIVAL Month’ and to do all that we can to increase survival rates, especially in areas where the need is the greatest” (9/7).
Civil Registration Of African Children Necessary For Human Rights, Access To Health, Education, Other Services, Conference Hears
“Birth certificates and other forms of civil registration of children in Africa are critical for their enjoyment of human rights and access to health, education and other services, an official of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told a conference on the issue, in Durban, South Africa,” the U.N. News Centre reports. UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Elke Wisch said at the two-day Second Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration, “Birth registration protects children from child labor, recruitment into armed forces and militias, human trafficking, early marriage as well as other forms of exploitation. … Birth registration is essential for children to access health care and education, as well as for orphans to inherit from their parents,” according to the news service (9/6). In a statement, UNICEF said only 38 percent of children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa have a birth certificate, SAPA/Independent Online notes. South African President Jacob Zuma said at the conference opening, “By not registering and planning for your people you are putting your country into difficulty,” the news service reports (9/6).
Discussing how in some “parts of Africa young girls are allowed to spend days in labor to deliver a baby,” increasing their risk of injury and death, Gary Darmstadt, head of the Family Health Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wendy Prosser, a research analyst with the division, ask in a post in the foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, “[W]hat happens when culture and accepted behaviors are actually harmful; when science and culture collide?” They cite other examples of how programs based on scientific evidence can reduce risks or prevent disease, and add, “Changing behaviors is not an easy task, and changing cultures is even more difficult and can be very sensitive. … We can successfully develop, introduce and scale up an intervention only when we understand the desires, motivations, and choices of the user — essentially, only when we consider the culture of a community” (9/6).
“A report [.pdf] on Afghanistan backed by UNICEF shows the country still has leaps and bounds to go in the areas of maternal and child health and education,” GlobalPost’s “Rights” blog reports. “Nearly 46 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 gave birth to a child before their eighteenth birthday in the Western regions of Afghanistan, and one in four women in the country overall delivered a live birth before reaching adulthood,” the report states, according to the blog. “‘Alarmingly, two percent have had a live birth before the age of 15,’ says the report,” the blog writes, adding, “These women were child brides, sold or given to husbands before reaching maturity. The practice is illegal in Afghanistan, but the tradition remains firmly implanted in certain rural tribal regions of the country to the detriment of both mothers and children.”
“Kenya has launched an investigation after researchers claimed HIV-positive women were being routinely sterilized without their consent in government hospitals,” the Guardian reports. The African Gender and Media Initiative issued a report “based on interviews with 40 women, suggest[ing] the practice was widespread and ongoing,” according to the newspaper. “The report also includes examples of coercive tactics used by medical staff to obtain consent — for instance, threatening to withhold antiretroviral medication or baby milk if the woman did not agree to the procedure,” the newspaper writes. “‘These allegations are very serious and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board is going to investigate them before appropriate action is taken,’ Shariff Shahnaz, the director of public health, told the Daily Nation newspaper,” the Guardian reports (Mojtehedzadeh, 9/4).
Approximately one-third of children under the age of five in southern Afghanistan, about one million, have acute malnutrition, “with a level of deprivation similar to that found in famine zones, a government survey has found, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that has been poured into the region,” the Guardian reports. The U.N.-supported “Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) found 29.5 percent of children are suffering from acute malnutrition there,” the newspaper states, noting that a level of more than 30 percent is one indicator of famine, as are death rates and families’ access to food.