The government has welcomed a new campaign launched on 5 October by NGO Save the Children to help reduce child mortality in Yemen, which has the highest rate in the Middle East and one of the highest in the world outside Africa.
“This is a good move to save the lives of children in Yemen; a poor country where 74 in every 1,000 children die before they reach one year of age and 104 in every 1,000 die before age five,” said Fahd al-Sabri, a reproductive health expert at the government’s National Population Council.
Yemen was ranked 48th worst in the world for child mortality in 2009 by a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report. However, it appears progress is being made as Yemen was ranked 73rd in 2007 and 147th in 1990.
Al-Sabri told IRIN that diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections were the primary causes of under-five deaths. “Thirteen percent of under-fives in the country suffer anaemia and are underweight, which means their lives are at high risk if no effective interventions are undertaken.”
The initiative in Yemen is part of Save the Children’s global Survive to 5 campaign first announced on 6 September in New York.
|This is a good move to save the lives of children in Yemen; a poor country where 74 in every 1,000 children die before they reach one year of age and 104 in every 1,000 die before age five|
The organization estimates the global number of deaths of children under five at more than 10 million a year. Health experts say that up to six million children could be saved if a package of low-cost health interventions were made more readily available to children and their families.
“The campaign aims to save the lives of 500,000 children over the next five years in 40 developing countries, including Yemen,” Andrew Moore, director of Save the Children in Yemen, said.
He added that the campaign aims to help Yemen achieve its Fourth Millennium Goal and that its first step would be to focus on increasing awareness among families in Sanaa and Aden - the most populated cities - about the risks leading to child deaths.
Awareness “not enough”
Some experts have said Yemen needs more than awareness-raising to reduce child mortality rates.
“Awareness is not enough to solve the problem… The government and those NGOs concerned should train rural midwives on how to attend mothers delivering at home,” Ahmad al-Qurashi, chairman of NGO Siyaj Organization for Childhood Protection (SOCP), told IRIN on 5 October.
“Another factor behind the phenomenon is the lack of healthcare centres, particularly in rural areas,” he said, noting that this was where more than 70 percent of Yemen’s 22 million people lived.
Save the Children’s Moore said another issue to be addressed in the campaign would be breastfeeding as, he said, only 12 percent of children in Yemen were exclusively breastfed until six months of age.
Photo: Save the Children
|Save the Children's campaign aims to save the lives of 500,000 children over the next five years in 40 developing countries, including Yemen|
“This contributes to high levels of malnutrition in young children. Almost one in every two children is underweight… this makes them more likely to get diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are among the major causes of child death in Yemen,” he said.
Home delivery kits
Rashida al-Nisairi, head of the Woman and Child Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs & Labour, said more needed to be done to assist Yemeni mothers delivering at home.
“Home delivery puts the lives of both the mother and the baby at risk due to poor personal hygiene and lack of experience on the part of female relatives who usually attend mothers during delivery,” she said, adding that over 80 percent of Yemeni mothers deliver at home, particularly in remote areas.
Supported by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the government has distributed 30,000-50,000 clean home delivery kits nationwide each year over the past three years, according to al-Nisairi.