By Sola Ogundipe
FOR four days, Executive Director UNICEF, Ms.Ann Veneman was in Nigeria. It was her first official visit since she was appointed UNICEF Executive Director. Although the visit was primarily focused addressing child and maternal health issues, it also served as the platform on which she announced the commitment of US$1,850,000 additional support by UNICEF towards addressing the incidence of malnutrition in Nigeria.
Good Health Weekly gathered that Venemanâ€™s visit to Sokoto and Kebbi States was focused primarily on community based interventions aimed at addressing issues of ensuring that children in that region of the country are dequately vaccinated against polio. Also on the agenda was ensuring effective malaria control, routine immunisation and improved maternal health.
The UNICEF Executive Director later revealed during an interview session in Abuja, that there is truly a commitment from the Federal and state government as well as the traditional community in the visited areas.
â€œIn Sokoto and Kebbi that I went. We saw progress on ground particularly in Kebbi where there is a strong involvement of the Local Governments, the States and the Faith-based Organisations (FBOs). Through close cooperation among the government of Nigeria and religious and traditional leaders, there is hope.â€
In Kebbi, she participated in the launch of the first ever National Child Health Week in Nigeria which will provide life saving immunisations and basic health interventions, to mothers and children.Â
The integrated package includes widespread distribution of insecticide-treated bed-nets.Â Malaria is the number one killer of children under the age of five in Nigeria which is on track to achieve universal coverage of insecticide treated bed-nets by 2010.
Veneman had earlier met with traditional and religious leaders who play a vital role in educating and guiding communities on health-carepractices.
She noted: â€œSustainable community-based approaches are essential for successful outcomes. Government officials, health workers and traditional and religious leaders are working closely together to accelerate progress.Â Knowledge is key.Â
â€œIf communities understand the importance of basic hygiene, including clean water, proper sanitation, hand-washing with soap, sleeping under an insecticide treated bed-nets, immunisations, and proper nutrition including breast-feeding, child deaths can be reduced and girls and boys can be given a healthier start in life.â€
Veneman was later to comment : â€œI think the coming together of the Federal local govts and the FBOs and trad community is making a difference in addressing these issues. It is going to take this kind of collaborative effort to make the expected difference.â€
Veneman observed that majority of Nigerian women do not take advantage of access to prenatal services. â€œAs a result, these women often do not get the right information about pregnancy. To some extent, the people have not gone to get vaccinated. Women have not gone to get prenatal care because there has not been enough right signals from the faith-based traditional leaders.
But I think there is growing commitment on the part of FBOs & traditional communities in this direction to improve child vaccination and maternal health. This is an important change occurring at the community level. I think the community-based approach has to have the involvement of the community.
On the donation of US$1.850,000 to address malnutrition in Nigeria, she said the newly allocated funds will be used to scale up integrated community-based nutrition stations where families can take their children for preventative and curative assistance.
â€œThe financial support is from discretionary funds available to UNICEF. We have raised the funds. There has been a lot of vertical funding and the communities are still dealing with that, but what the integrated child health concept is all about is like saying letâ€™s not take these decisions separately and have separate approaches..â€œLack of essential health services, malnutrition, inadequate access toclean water and basic sanitation contribute to high rates of childmortality.â€Â
Discussions with government and faith-based leaders also focused on the need to eradicate polio.Â Nigeria is one of only four polio endemic countries in the world and the only endemic country in Africa. She also announced allocation of over $5 million to contribute to polio eradication efforts in the country.