Reducing Child Mortality
by Rumbidzai Dube
In 2013 we are losing 57 children for every 1000 children that are born alive. These children are dying because of neonatal causes such as birth complications (34%), others from HIV/AIDS (20%), Pneumonia (10%), Malaria (9%), Diarrhoea (7 %)), Injuries (3%), Measles (1%), Meningitis (1%) and other causes. One famous (and hot) actor recognised the source of the problem as lack of political will and conscience and stated;
"Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold."-Brad Pitt
He is right. The major reasons why our children are dying are circumstances that can be avoided and addressed with the relevant political will to do so. We would have less babies dying in child birth if our hospitals were more accessible and affordable. Women are already doing a national duty in giving birth; should they be made to pay for it as well? If anything, should they not be given allowances for allowing our nation to grow? Service fees must be scrapped; however the reality at the moment is that this is not a viable option because government is not allocating enough funds for the public clinics and hospitals to run efficiently. How about switching that defence budget and making it the health budget, dear government?
The high levels of diarrhoea are a direct consequence of the poor sanitation (where 35% of our population has no proper sanitation) and unsafe water (with 20% of our population having no access to safe and clean drinking water). When will our government get its priorities right; to address corruption within local councils, to cut those $35 000 salary pegs for top municipal bosses and reallocate the funds to purchasing water treatment chemicals instead? When will our rural district councils stop buying fancy land-rovers and prioritise sinking and maintaining boreholes so that the 50% of the rural population who have no safe drinking water can have their needs met?
Malaria can be prevented with the availability of mosquito nets, mosquito coils, and mosquito repellents, fumigation of households and swamps and ingestion of anti-malarial tablets. It can also be cured if the drugs for curing it are made available, readily and easily. How about government allocating all its available funds to address malaria to ensuring its prevention and cure-more practical efforts, less printing of Ministry of Health with the ‘Let us prevent Malaria message at the back’ t-shirts that I see people brandishing at the gym?
Previously it was almost like a death sentence for a child to be born to an HIV positive mother but technology has shown that mother to child transmission can be avoided during pregnancy and during birth as well. Government should increase its efforts at rolling out the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) programme. We want an AIDS free generation as soon as yesterday and as long as we do not prioritise preventing the birth of HIV Positive babies; that will remain a pipe dream.
What have we done well?
- Zimbabwe has been doing well with its voluntary HIV testing of expectant mothers. PMTCT has significantly reduced HIV/AIDS infections in young children.
- We have successfully vaccinated the majority of our children with BCG, Whooping Cough, TB, Polio 1, Polio 2, Diphtheria and Measles vaccines being administered.
What more can we do?
- To succeed in significantly reducing child mortality, we need to get rid of malnutrition and that is possible when we improve food security broadly and have supplementary feeding programs for children in schools and at clinics;
- We need to scale up our PMTCT;
- We need to have free and accessible vaccination of children from curable diseases;
- We must improve our water supply and sanitation to avoid avoidable deaths from diseases such as cholera, dysentery;
We should never forget that the solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today. (Margaret Mead)