The Sad Facts for Children in Africa

he Sad Facts for Children in Africa

  • Twenty percent of Africa's children die before the age of five.
  • Africa has the highest infant mortality rate in the world: 118 African babies out of every 1,000 born alive die before their first birthday.
  • Most African children die from malnutrition, diarrheal disease and the range of common childhood ailments for which vaccines already exist.
  • Almost all of these young deaths are preventable.

Anounce of Prevention

Each day in Sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of young children die needlessly. Malnutrition, diarrheal disease, malaria, pneumonia, measles, whooping cough, tetanus and tuberculosis head the list of killers. And what's so striking about those causes is that, in almost every case, they are preventable. Immunization, basic nutrition, clean water and simple procedures for health monitoring and treatment can — effectively, inexpensively — revolutionize the long-term outlook for the African child. Africare's “child survival” programs are helping to advance just such solutions in numerous countries Africa-wide.

Three-year-old Simplice was listless, ill and underweight when his mother brought him to a medical clinic in Beriberati, Central African Republic. Thanks to Africare's child survival program, Simplice was treated for dehydration caused by infant diarrhea. He began receiving the basic childhood immunizations against measles, whooping cough, tetanus and TB. And his family learned how to prevent and combat such common ailments as malnutrition and malaria. Simplice recovered and within a few weeks was back to his rambunctious, active, cheerful self.

Simplice might well have died, as thousands of African children do before their fifth birthdays, for lack of the most basic medical care and health information.

Fortunately, Africare's child survival programs, initiated in 1991, have brought these basic medical services to more than one million children in 13 countries.

The programs provide the six basic childhood immunizations: measles, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis, polio and diphtheria. They attack diarrheal dehydration — worldwide, the cause of three million child deaths annually — by teaching mothers to administer simple solutions of sugar, salt and water (called “oral rehydration therapy”) to their afflicted children. Maternal education in health monitoring, sanitation and nutrition along with family planning and AIDS prevention, round out the topics of concern.

And just as important as the messages is how they are conveyed. Every Africare activity is carried out by local health practitioners, including traditional village birth attendants, in the context of local systems and needs. These people combine such vital qualities as local acceptance, insight into the communities where they live and great, often heroic, dedication.

  • In the Abia and Imo states of Nigeria, for example, Africare trained traditional midwives in 55 villages in the basics of modern maternal and child care. Africare also linked the women to area clinics, enabling them to professionally refer the more difficult cases. As a result, tens of thousands of rural mothers and their children gained permanent, locally available health resources. And medical outreach was dramatically improved, at a bearable cost.
  • Mahari is a driving force behind the child survival program supported by Africare in the isolated villages of Eritrea's Northern Red Sea zone. A local nurse, he starts work at 4:30 a.m., treating patients staying at the clinic. During the course of the day, he may see dozens of mothers and their children who walk in for treatment. Mahari manages the immunization and health education programs, and oversees a network of traditional birth attendants trained by Africare health professionals in modern pre- and postnatal care. It is sometimes well past midnight before this dedicated medical practitioner goes home.
  • Simao Chilela has been a key member of the mobile vaccination team in Angola since 1995. Not only do Simao and his team traverse great distances, over difficult terrain, to reach infants and young children with life-saving vaccines — they also risk their lives in war-torn areas. During one bombing attack on the city of Kuito, when hospital access and vaccinations became impossible, Simao carried on. “In order not to stop our activities and to make a difference,” he said, “we concentrated on health education.”

Clinic by clinic and village by village, Africare's child survival programs are bringing good health to the children of Africa: the continent's hope for tomorrow.

Child survival programs have been in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. They complement a vast array of Africare programs improving health generally at the village, national, and regional levels Africa-wide.

Other Rural Health Programs

  • Throughout its history, Africare has built and equipped thousands of clinics in rural areas of Africa where there was little or no health care before. Typical is the Goundam district of Mali. There, desert conditions prevail. Communities are far-flung. Nomads roam. There are no paved roads. One doctor and 13 intermittently functioning clinics served the entire district: area, 36,000 square miles. A major Africare project is improving health care resources throughout Goundam.
  • In Nigeria, Africare combined literacy classes with health education in its Literacy-for-Health program. Women who had had no formal education were trained to read and write in their own languages using materials that focused on family health care. More than 8,000 women benefited from the program. Africare trained local educators as well, so the program continues on its own.
  • In Chad and Nigeria, Africare has pioneered grassroots-based approaches to controlling onchocerciasis, or “river blindness,” a widespread disease that results in loss of sight. The disease is controlled through regular distributions of the drug, ivermectin (Mectizan MSD), provided free of charge by its manufacturer, Merck & Co. More than a third of the world's known cases of river blindness are in these two countries.
  • Africare's water-and-sanitation programs Africa-wide have provided not only plentiful water supplies but also appropriate technology and training to help local people keep the water safe. The programs have made a real difference on a continent where most rural people have no access to safe water — and where, as a result, the incidence of water-borne disease is tragically high.

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