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Health care crucial to children

by Setsuko Kamiya

YOKOHAMA — Africa continues to be one of the most challenging regions in the world for children.

But health programs designed to aid their survival are showing subtle yet positive results, and the international community should work together to improve them further, said Nicholas Alipui, program division director at UNICEF.

The group recently said in a report that the global annual death toll of people aged under 5 fell to 9.7 million in 2006, 60 percent below the 1960 level. About half of the deaths occurred in Africa, the report said.

The number is still large, but Alipui, an obstetrician, explained that it is the first time the mortality number has fallen below 10 million.

“Health education programs on the (African) continent, with better resources and funding, are having greater impact,” Alipui said during the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama that ended Friday.

Indeed, UNICEF reports that deaths from measles in sub-Saharan Africa plunged 91 percent between 2000 and 2006, and use of antiretroviral treatments to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV tripled in eastern and southern Africa between 2004 and 2006. In addition, use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets has tripled to 16 countries, it said.

The fact that more African youths and mothers are becoming aware of the benefits of vaccination, clean environments and sanitation is helping to improve the situation, Alipui said, noting communication is an important factor in improving the situation.

But African countries are lagging behind the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 by the United Nations. The goals aimed to make progress on major development issues, including halving poverty and hunger, halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and achieving universal education by 2015.

To achieve these goals and save children, more human resources, especially health-care workers, are necessary to bring these health programs to mothers, who have the most influential role in the lives of children, he said.

Funding from the international community has also been a key factor, Alipui said. He called for more investment to help African children get more access to health care.

Alipui gave a favorable evaluation of the TICAD process, saying it brings together African leaders, Japan, other development partners and civil society to form stronger partnerships to make Africa more vibrant.

“It creates a synergy. . . . The integration of action is very important to make things move,” he said. “The spirit of TICAD shows us that there is a more hopeful situation, and it is possible to achieve breakthroughs for the children of Africa.”