The major killers of African children are totally preventable, denying them the human right to health
International Day of the African Child
May 16, 2015
Amref Health Africa joins the international community in commemorating the International Day of the African Child, marked every year on June 16. While on this day we remember the black children massacred in Soweto, South Africa in 1976 for demanding their right to quality education under the apartheid regime, it is also the day that the African Union has set aside to promote children’s rights in Africa.
Amref Health Africa recognises that just like in the Soweto incident, many children in Africa still face injustice and rights abuses in a number of ways. Of these, inability to access the right to health remains a big challenge. Poor health deprives African children of the right to life. One in six children born in sub-Saharan Africa do not live to their fifth birthdays.The region still has the highest child mortality rate in the world - 92 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is more than 15 times the average rate in developed regions. The major killers of African children are totally preventable, making every death an incidence of great injustice to the children and their families.
Under-nutrition is one of the major problems that severely affect African children. It is notable that malnutrition is an underlying cause of more than a third of deaths among children under five years in Africa, while about 30 per cent of African children are stunted as a result of insufficient or poorly balanced diets. This figure is much higher in marginalised and hard-to-reach communities.
Child marriage is an injustice that is sanctioned by many African communities. One in three girls in low and middle income countries is married off by the age of 18 years. Child marriage disrupts and stops education for girls and limits their access to future socio-economic opportunities. Child-bearing at such an early age puts them at risk of obstetric complications and death, notwithstanding the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
And then there is the problem of female genital cutting (FGC). It is estimated that 91.5 million females above nine years of age in Africa are currently living with the consequences of FGC, with another three million at risk of undergoing the cut every year. FGC continues to be practiced in various parts of the world and is a culturally and socially sanctioned gender subjugation effort that also undermines the health of girls and women.
These are just a few of the many injustices that the African child has to contend with. Amref Health Africa believes that socio-economic advancement will only be achieved if women and children are at the centre of development. Key to this is to ensure that the continental framework for human rights as it applies to women and children is upheld by governments, communities and individuals. For children this means access to all rights as stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Amref Health Africa is committed to supporting governments to address these injustices through multiple programmes, mostly in marginalised and hard-to-reach communities. In its endeavour to reduce child deaths, the organisation has supported governments to improve infrastructure and equip health facilities with life-saving medicines and equipment, trained health workers to provide quality services, and mobilised communities to adopt better health-seeking behaviour. The result has been an increase in proportions of safe deliveries, higher uptake of immunisation, and more effective care for sick children in communities and at health facilities.
By training mothers on the importance of breastfeeding, good weaning practices, use of locally available foods and use of fortified foods, more children have survived the risks of malnutrition.
On the issue of FGC, Amref Health Africa has developed the Alternative Rite of Passage model, a community-driven approach to eliminating FGC. The model has been used in Magadi, Loitokitok and Samburu counties of Kenya and Kilindini in Tanzania. Through this programme 7,000 girls have been spared the agony of FGC and have adopted an Alternative Rite of Passage with the support of their communities.
While this and other programmes across the continent are boosting progress in addressing the rights of children in African communities, a lot of work remains to be done. Amref Health Africa therefore urges all stakeholders to support and increase funding for initiatives aimed at assuring justice for the African child. This includes funding of life-saving commodities and equipment to improve the survival of children, more training of health workers on use of these commodities and equipment, and increased community education to encourage health-seeking behavior.
Adequacy and distribution of trained health workers, especially at the lowest level of health care, is an area that is still severely under-resourced. The situation is worse in the remote and hard to reach areas of the continent. Amref Health Africa asks governments to pay more attention to the issue of equity in access to care. National statistics on child health will only improve if children in all parts of our countries have equal access to life-saving health services.
Finally, Amref Health Africa calls for the full implementation of laws and policies that protect the welfare of children. Such laws criminalise child marriage and FGC. Law enforcers and community leaders should spearhead the implementation of such laws as a prerequisite to achieving rights for all children on the continent.