(Photo: Amref Health Africa)
Protecting Children from the Injustice of Poor Health
June 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 recognizes that many children in Africa still face injustice and rights abuses. Of these, the inability to access health care 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 birthday. 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 preventable, making every death an incidence of great injustice to children and their families.
Malnutrition is one of the major problems that severely affect African children, with more than a third of deaths in children under five. About 30 per cent of African children are stunted as a result of insufficient or poorly balanced diets. This figure is much higher in marginalized 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. Child marriage disrupts and stops education for girls limiting 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.
It is estimated that 91.5 million females above nine years of age in Africa are currently living with the consequences of female genital cutting (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 undermines the health of girls and women.
Amref Health Africa believes that socio-economic advancement will only be achieved if women and children are at the center 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 programs, mostly in marginalized and hard-to-reach communities. To help reduce child deaths, the organization has supported governments to improve infrastructure, equip health facilities with life-saving medicines and equipment, train health workers to provide quality services, and mobilize communities to adopt better health-seeking behaviors. The result has been an increase in proportions of safe deliveries, higher uptake of immunization, and more effective care for sick children in communities and at health facilities.
By teaching mothers the importance of breastfeeding, good weaning practices, use of locally available and fortified, more children have survived the risks of malnutrition.
On the issue of FGC, Amref Health Africa developed the Alternative Rites of Passage model, a community-driven approach to eliminating FGC. This model has been used in Magadi, Loitokitok and Samburu counties of Kenya and Kilindini in Tanzania, sparing 7,000 girls the agony of FGC.
While this and other programs across the continent are boosting progress in addressing the rights of children in African communities, much 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 health worker training, and increased community education to encourage health-seeking behaviors.
Adequacy and distribution of well trained health workers, especially at the community 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, to protect the welfare of children, Amref Health Africa calls for the full implementation of laws and policies that criminalize child marriage and FGC. Law enforcers and community leaders need to spearhead the implementation of such laws as a prerequisite to achieving rights for all children across the continent.